“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved,” – Helen Keller
I know that most people are feeling optimistic about this brand new year we’ve entered. People think “things can’t be as bad as 2020” or “phew, I’m glad that year is behind us” or “as long as James Patterson doesn’t publish anything, 2021 will be better.”
As an author, when a new year looms I simply hold my breath and wait. Because it’s either going to be the end of the chapter… or the end of the book.
In traditional fiction, the hero of a story goes on a journey to achieve his/her goal. It’s never going to be an easy journey because if it were, then no one would bother reading the book. If Frodo was able to walk to Mt. Doom and toss the One Ring into the lava without any conflict, then it wouldn’t be so entertaining.
Nobody reads a book simply to watch characters living their normal lives. Nobody really wants to read about Frodo and Sam sitting around the Shire eating fifty breakfasts everyday. Nobody wants to watch Sauron endlessly look for his lost jewelry for eternity. In the television show 24 I had one issue with it because you never see Jack Bauer walking out of a bathroom. Are you telling me the dude can save the world in one day without emptying his bladder?
“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere,” said Frank A. Clark.
It’s the same reason why we never get to see what happens after the credits roll or when the last page turns. No one wants to see their hero grow old and die. They don’t want to see Sam and Rosie raising their kids. Peter Pan had the right idea about not wanting to grow up and quit having adventures. Remember in Avengers: Endgame and Old Man Steve was revealed? We only get a glimpse into that life because no one wants to watch Steve Rogers living a normal life. They pay that movie ticket in order to watch him suffer.
And that’s the horrible truth people.
It’s the conflict, the torment, the never ending and increasingly difficult obstacles that block the hero’s path that entertains readers. People accuse authors of being sadistic because they put their characters through horrific events. However, readers are complicit because they soak all that conflict in and enjoy it. Readers go on YouTube and discuss it. People lend the books to others and say how they loved it.
Readers pay money for it.
“Now Jim,” you might be saying. “It’s only a story. That can’t happen in real life.”
• The Australian brushfires
• Murder hornets
• The Beirut explosion
• West Coast wildfires
• Stockmarket crash
• The Presidential Election of 2020
• The rioting/looting in America
• (insert any other horrific event I didn’t include)
The Human Race has overcome the above mentioned obstacles. Normally, a tale ends when the protagonist achieves his/her goal and strengthened as an individual. Frodo doesn’t want to be a normal Hobbit anymore, Steve Rogers figures out that the world can defend itself and he can go about his normal life.
But has humanity learned something? Have we achieved our goal? Do we even know what that goal is? No, I don’t think we’ve learned anything yet and we’ve certainly haven’t achieved a goal (whatever that goal may be).
That’s why I think we’re beginning a new chapter. Hang on to something people. Even though we’re all relieved that the horrors of 2020 are behind us, there will most likely be more on the horizon. Because if my experience as a reader and as an author counts for anything, there’s going to be more obstacles in our path that will be more difficult.
The important thing to focus on is that we never give up hope. We have to keep moving. We have to keep standing up after getting knocked down. Suddenly, I’m getting Rocky and Chumbawamba vibes.
All jokes aside though, remember that protagonists always receive their happy ending should they reach the end and succeed in obtaining their goal (don’t, ummm, think about the times when protagonists are serial killers or dark stuff along that route).
So, before all the horrors of 2021 descend upon us I’d like to wish you all a happy New Year and to keep calm and write on!
Categories: Mastering the Craft