Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Damage Done

Normal people are boring.

Not necessarily in real life, but in fiction. You know what I mean, right?

Can you think of one 'normal' character who's at all interesting when you're reading? I can't. I know there are more than a few, maybe Dr. John Watson would fall into that category as written by Arthur Conan Doyle and not Steven Moffat but he would be an exception. In Watson's case he's interesting as a foil for Holmes' brilliance and not much else. He is the reporter.

But think about it, when you're having a conversation with someone and you're both having a good time you're not talking about mundane things are you? You're talking about the stupid stuff people do, the unbelievable stuff, the stuff you just can't make up.

As a fiction writer you have to exaggerate things, make things bigger and more extreme than in 'real life' because that's where the conflict comes from. That's what engages the reader.

Being extreme in fiction is one thing and it's very different from being a commentator on TV and saying extreme things to garner ratings although the goals are the same: a wider audience. A writer and a commentator are telling stories and both are trying to entertain. Fiction is supposed to be entertainment and the news is supposed to be a truth. Not THE truth, mind you; just a truth.

So when one is writing a story in an everyday setting it's incumbent on the writer to make the reader identify in some way with the character. The best way to do that is to break the character somehow, take him out of the everyday and give him something that drives him. Write his actions so big that readers will be able to see themselves in the characters you're writing. Actions, behaviors, sayings, interactions with others all come from what we observe in our everyday lives, but made more extreme.

This isn't to say that you can't take a so-called normal person and make them interesting, you can. You should try it and see how you do. But remember that there should be something about the character that makes your reader want to know more. Everyone has a secret of some kind. Play that up. Make it something that is horrifying only to the person or persons involved with that secret. Then realize that the character who doesn't admit that the secret really bothers him is broken by it.

And that's what will make him interesting.

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