Monday, April 30, 2012

Epic Conflicts

Okay so here's one of my pet peeves: writers who are afraid of epic conflicts and dark places.  I can't tell you how many times I've picked up a book, so excited to read it based on the blurb and been SOOOO disappointed with where the author went with it.

Now, I'll admit that this may be a bit arrogant on my part.  Perhaps where the author went is simply not where I would have gone with it, and that's why I don't like it.  (This is an occupational hazard when you write your own books.)  Even so, I often can't help but feel like some authors come up with awesome premises, but then shy away from the deepest, darkest places that the characters and/or conflicts could possibly go.

For example (don't worry I have too much respect for those in my industry to use any actual names or titles) I picked up a particular novel that sounded fantastic.  The blurb said it was about two teenagers who made a suicide pact together.  One survived, one did not.  The blurb made it sound like the story would be about the psychology of the survivor; what he thought, how he felt; what made him enter the pact to begin with.  I was so excited to see where this novel went that I dove right in.  The writing was actually very good, but the story wasn't at all what I thought it would be, and not in a good way.  It ended up being more about how the families reacted, the legal procedures that surrounded it, and whether or not to blame the teenager that survived--legally and emotionally--for the death of the one that didn't.  There wasn't a word about the psychology of it, what the survivor felt, etc.  The author went so far as to say that the only reason the boy survived was because he didn't actually want to commit suicide.  He entered the pact in the hopes of changing his girlfriend's mind.

Now, maybe this is simply the way the author envisioned the story.  Undoubtedly it was, but it felt like such a cop out to me!  This premise was so provocative and had the potential to have so much fantastic stuff in it.  Instead of exploiting that, the author decided to turn it into a semi-whodunit teenage drama.  Really?

I'm all about whodunits and teenage drama, but I think it's important to always take the conflict to its farthest extremity at some point.  Figure out what the worst thing you could do to your character would be and, more often than not, do it.  Comedians have no problem with this.  They get it.  They take everything to its farthest, over-the-top point, because that's what makes it funny.  If you want good drama/conflict, you have to do the same thing.  Of course there are exceptions, but if the conflict isn't going to it's most extreme avenue, why should the reader care?

Other examples of this literary faux pas include gearing up for a battle that doesn't happen (certain vampire battle that didn't happen, anyone?), having a character worry about something  the entire novel that never comes into play (I don't have an example in mind for this one, but I've seen it happen before!), and not going inside your main character's head to find out what they think and/or feel about the central conflict (see above example).

Not making your conflicts epic enough is a recipe for a flop of a story.  This is especially true in fantasy!  Because the readers can't relate to the world based on their real world experience, you have to make the stakes massively high to keep them coming back to your make-believe world!  Don't be afraid to make your conflicts epic, explore the darkest places, and bring your reader something they've never thought of before.

What literary faux pas irritate you like crazy?

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