Stories about the life of a well-off happily married woman with a sexy husband, three adorable, perfectly behaved children and a responsible, challenging, but enormously fulfilling job she adores would be tedious.
Who wants to read about Miss Perfect? Typical reactions would be: know-it-all, snooty cow and bor-ing; feelings would be envy, resentment and can’t-be-arsed to read on. If such a book ever got to print, it would be chucked out in the re-cycling after 50 pages. One of my beta readers gives a book 20 pages to convince him it’s worth continuing.
So what does a reader want (especially the 20-page one)?
The heroine in my book3 has overcome her start in life, beaten the bad guys, saved the world, and after a rocky start, has settled down with the love of her life. And we’re pleased to hear nobody’s trying to kidnap her, overturn her society or kill her as in books 1 & 2.
But wait, a big, BIG shadow looms out of her beloved’s past and causes every kind of havoc.
If I’ve done my job properly, readers have begun to like my main character, or at least empathise with her. Perhaps they want to be her friend, her sister or even her. But when the big shock hits, and she realises the trouble she’s in and starts devising a plan to get out of it, they want her to succeed.
Sorry. Not going to happen.
Betrayals, harsh choices, lies, guilt, natural conflict sharpened up by misunderstandings, bad attitude, kidnapping, knifings, trust broken, pursuit by maniacs, weakness, bad temper, death before dishonour, red herrings, comrades of twenty years dying, impossible deadlines to disaster, irrationality, frustration, stomach turning twists. And the agony of watching the character walk towards certain doom…
THESE are what readers want to see. So we as writers have to give our heroes and heroines the worst possible time. Then again. And again.
As the great Chuck Wendig says: After all, that’s what a plot truly is: a character who strives to get above all the shit the storyteller dumps on his fool head.
How cruel are you to your protagonist? And is it always justified?