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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are you a sadist or a sweetie?


I vividly remember the moment when J.K. Rowling killed off Dumbledore. I thought, “She’s capable of ANYTHING!” It was the perfect set up for book 7 because I honestly didn’t know if she would kill Harry or not. I really believed Rowling might—which I guess she did :)

That is the kind of writer I want to be—the kind capable of anything. I don't want to write the kind of story where nothing bad happens and all of the characters are perfectly safe. If this is something you want too...I have tips.

Don’t pull your punches. If you write your characters into a bad situation DON’T bail them out at the last second. Let them show you what they are made of. They may surprise you.

Fears. Find what your MC’s greatest fear is and MAKE them confront it. Is it death, betrayal, abandonment? When confronted with our worst there is nowhere to go but up.

Consequences. Don’t skip the consequences, they are the unbreakable rules. If you do X than Y happens. If you do X and A happens you might lose readers. I know we love our characters and don’t want to hurt them, but if they don’t have to own their consequences the story can feel unjust. And injustice can alienate readers fast.

Write terrible things. If bad things happen to good people, it will keep your readers unsettled. They will never know what you are going to do. They won’t be able to trust your happy ending—and that will keep them reading.

Insert maniacal laughter here :)

Now just in case you think I’m a serial sadist, I want to say—I’m a fan of happy endings, with one huge caveat. HAPPY ENDINGS MUST BE EARNED!

If everything is all butterflies, unicorns, and rainbows, the happy ending is much less satisfying. But if your MC struggles, fights, and makes hard decisions—then the happy ending moves us.

How did you feel when Harry and Ginny put their kids on the train to Hogwarts? I’m not ashamed to admit I cried—see I’m not heartless.

-Angie

21 comments:

Donna K. Weaver said...

Oh, I love this post. I wish my husband would read it and believe it. When I read the rough draft of my unfinished SciFi ms, there's a hard scene in the beginning of the book. It traumatized him. Seriously. He's such a softie. And knowing that I will one day have to read what I write to him (he'd be crushed if I didn't) really inhibits my muse.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Oh, and about Harry (you didn't think I could not comment on Harry), Jo really did set up up for that last book, didn't she? Besides what she did in the books, she prepared us in interviews. She said the last book would be a bloodbath, that in war people die and not just the second string. I went into that book expecting that anyone could die (though for some reason I hadn't thought of either Hedwig or Dobby--I so cried when Dobby died). I didn't cry will Fred was killed. She said that in her epilogue she'd let one person live that she'd planned to kill and that two others died she hadn't planned on. I was worried both the twins would go, so I was relieved when it was just one of them.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Yep, I cried at that part, too.

I just finished re-reading Gayle Forman's IF I STAY (YA) and I cried again - so hard, I had to stop reading because I couldn't see the page. Bad things happen to good people, struggle, heart, family, friends, love - it has it all.

I remember reading Stephen King's THE STAND for the first time and feeling shock when one of the main good guys gets killed. How could this be? He's a main character, one of the heroes? I think that was when I realized that was part of what made a book so good - that unpredictability, that anything can happen, so you should be worried after all. :)

Stacy Henrie said...

Great post! The very first manuscript I tried writing was pretty boring because there wasn't much conflict. I've learned in the years since how vital conflict and tension are to a story.

E.R. King said...

I like creating conflict, especially when it ends badly for someone, but I don't do it as often as I probably should. Maybe that's why I'm gravitating towards romance. : )

Meredith said...

Happy endings must be earned--I think I need to tack that statement up on my wall. Pulling my punches is one of my biggest weaknesses!

Cassie Mae said...

Bad things have to happen to make us feel the situation is real. Totally agree! I will Mwhahaha with you. *rubs hands and throws head back in manic laughter*

Ruth Josse said...

I love reading books where I think, "there's no way it's going to work out!" But it totally does. So satisfying. Make 'em work for it!

Mel Fowler said...

Oh man this is just what I needed, because right now there are too many rainbows and butterflies in my book. I need a little more pain!

Jolene Perry said...

I wrote my first mixed ending not long ago, and I LOVE it.

I'm working on one right now, and yeah, sorry, it doesn't make sense when all of the main characters make it out of a desperate situation alive.

So. They all won't.

Also. LOVE Rowling. She killed off some MAJOR players. SO sad, but it made it SO much more real. LOVE

Freya Morris said...

Great post! So true. I have to be careful not to go too overboard! : )

Sara Bulla said...

Luckily no unicorns or rainbows in my stuff... but I am in my darkest writing experience and I have to say, I'm so tempted to cut the rules a bit and have my characters sidestep some of the consequences. Good reminder, thanks Angie!

Patricia Tilton said...

What an outstanding post! I loved your opening comments. Had never thought about it quite like that. I write PB, so I haven't had to confront bigger issues. Perhaps some day. But, I do like a sassy, naughty child.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I love that you are cruel to your characters. I think it makes them better, really. Shows what they are made of, which in the end, makes them endearing.

Cortney said...

This is great. I've always heard to constantly tell your characters "no" so you're always getting them into scrapes. It's what keeps readers reading!! And I was shocked when Dumbledore died too!!

Anonymous said...

Conflict is so hard to write - especially believable conflict. And, honestly, sometimes I am afraid to put my characters through trauma... argh! Thanks for the tips :)
Kim Karras

Leigh Covington said...

You're so awesome! I totally agree with you tho - I like happy endings, but they have to be earned. You put it perfectly. Thanks for the awesome tips today. I know I will use them. :)

Tara Tyler said...

great advice! makes perfect sense. must edit

Chad Morris said...

Great advice. Happy endings need to be earned.
I must admit though, I didn't cry when Harry and Ginny's kids went on the train. I'm trying to get over the name Albus Severus Potter. That poor kid is going to be teased.

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

Dagnabbit, I read the title and knew that I needed to be more sadistic. It's not something I normally admit to people but I think we've grown close over the months of cyber knowing each other and I know you wouldn't tell anyone. I am Shelly, and I'm too nice *hangs head in shame*

Chantele Sedgwick said...

You always have the best posts. Seriously. I am a fan of butterflies and rainbows, I admit, but I do like seeing my characters overcome major struggles as well. It makes for a more fulfilling story. :)

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