Monday, January 10, 2011

Using & Abusing Your Characters - Pt. 2

Stupidity and torture

It’s a well-established inevitability of fiction that some characters are too stupid to live. From an inability to connect the most obvious of clues, to keeping the kind of secrets that would have solved the central conflict two hundred pages ago, or plain old falling for the villain’s trap every single time, it can sometimes feel like stupidity is a literary contagion.

Of course, in many cases this kind of idiocy is not in fact idiocy at all: it’s curiosity, trust, gallantry or even love. Moreover, the occasional blunder is a reflection of human nature: we are human; we do stupid things, and so should our characters. And it’s this kind of humanity that is often necessary to drive the plot – and your characters – forward.

But, in the worst offenses, it’s only too easy to see how curiosity becomes stupidity – and with disastrous results. HUSH, HUSH follows on from the TWILIGHT measure of ‘dreamy’ (read: nightmare) male leads, though admittedly, far more blatantly. Nora pushes-and-pulls the semi-psychotic Patch through the better half of the book. She’s also stupid enough to be best friends with the self-absorbed, use-her-friendly Vee.
Example: On almost every level, Patch terrified me. But deep down, I didn’t think he was going to kill me.
(And that’s good enough for a teenage girl!)

At the other end of the spectrum (ie. not self-induced) is torture – the pain, drama and conflict characters undergo throughout the plot that drives them to their final confrontation with the big baddie, or to the break-up-before-make-up of their relationship. As every orphaned YA protagonist will tell you, it’s the torture these characters endure that drives them to revenge, shapes their relationships and builds them into heroes.

When you spend so much time with your own characters, however, attachment is inevitable. Torture and stupidity can become difficult to inflict on your beloved protagonist(s). And yet both devices are often essential to the conflicts that spur on the storyline and shape our characters – whether they be unintelligent or just plain unlucky.

Do you find it difficult to inflict torture or stupidity on your characters? If so, which do you find harder? And do you think the stupidity that leads characters to go outside and check on that weird noise is warranted, or a get-to-the-plot-point cop-out?

1 comment:

  1. I love to torture my characters, even if none of it makes it to the finished story. You have to torture them a bit just to see how far they'll bend, if they'll break, and how they'll come out the other side.

    This probably works in real life too, but I'm not psychotic enough to try it!