Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Character's Need for Problems - Part I

Of course, any story should have conflict. And the characters will work their way through them, battling the obstacles, be they external or internal. The question for you as the writer: how many and what kind of problems do you want your characters to face? A clear focus is essential. Your reader should understand what the main problem for your protagonist is in those first few pages of a novel or first page of a short story. It is essential that the reader immediately have a stake or investment in what he/she is reading or interest may be lost. Another concern to address is the choice of problems you want your characters to face. If you include too many major ones, the story becomes overwhelming, and often unbelievable, unless your protagonist is like Superman or Wonder Woman. For example, let's say your main character needs to find a missing relative. In the search this character has to battle against a crime lord and his thugs single-handed, find the antidote for a lethal injection, battle a tsunami and so on. Too much? You bet it is. Conflict is healthy in a story; it keeps the reader's interest. And you should keep a regular and frequent dose of it throughout the story. Just be sure not to go overboard with too much and too big. So, to clarify: 1) make the problem/goal clear, consequential, realistic; 2) make sure the goal is a good fit with the character, i.e. should the character have an investment in solving the problem? Would it matter enough to get involved?; and 3) avoid cliches, those trite, overused situations and problems. I know you can't reinvent the wheel, but try to come up with some original combination or approach.


Vanessa Rogers said...

So would you say the TV show LOST would be a good example of having too many conflicts?

teacherwriter said...

Ha! Yes, that would probably qualify. I watched it once or twice in its first year, and it made me break out in nervous sweats! It definitely overloaded my senses. As you might guess, I didn't go back for more.