Friday, March 13, 2009

Character trials

Spoiler Alert. If you haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire, this post might give some things away. I'll try not to, but just been warned. This is a cross post from Inkspot earlier this week.

I've just seen Slumdog Millionaire. It's good. It's hard to watch. And it reminded me that that in order to have a truly happy ending, one that satisfies and fits the characters, those characters must go to hell and back.

We're nice people. We try to protect the ones we love from harm. Particularly as women, we seemed to be hard wired to make sure everyone is comfortable, fed and watered, with their emotional needs met. And that includes our fictional people. It's hard to put your favorite characters in peril, over and over again. But that is the only thing that will make your book worthy of being printed.

It's not that your protagonist has to have a gun to her head every other page, but the stakes must be high, must be real and must be out of reach. Your character must come this close, only to have her dreams snatched away. Again and again. She must betray and be betrayed, hurt and be hurt, lie and be lied to. It’s watching characters get out of the messes that make fiction interesting.

There were times during Slumdog that I had to put my sweater over my head until the worst on screen was over. Jamal Malik wasn’t so lucky. He had to lose everything in order to get the one thing he wanted. And the audience wanted him to succeed. If we hadn't seen Jamal swim in a cesspool to get to his hero or come this close to being blinded, we wouldn't have cared so much about him.

What trials and tribulations do you put your characters through?

1 comment:

Linda O. Johnston said...

I always try to give my characters the greatest challenges that I think they can overcome, Terri. That's what makes a good story. On the other hand, I write murder mysteries. I kill people. But although my stories also contain animals, I don't kill them, at least not on the page. Reader expectations--and my preference, too!
I also saw Slumdog Millionaire and can see why it won so many awards. Seeing someone overcome adversity that we can barely imagine is really uplifting.