Friday, July 20, 2012

Writers Mantra #6

OK, long posts are hard to write and you don't want to allocate a long time. So, I'm only going to give you one writers' mantra. Feel free to ask for a discount.

Evoke sympathy for the hero, then evoke identification with his story goals.

When we left off last week I said that you want the reader to "get on the train" with your characters. The reader must derive pleasure from the association. Even if it is the perverse pleasure of seeing a bad person get their comeuppance. But you don't want to go around confusing heroes and villains, you want the reader rooting FOR the hero and AGAINST the villain.

When I read C. S. Forester's Mr. Midshipman Hornblower the author introduced me to this nice young man upon whom every imaginable injustice was inflicted. The kid would do something good, and then get punished for it.

It was terribly unfair.

Does anybody remember how they felt about Wesley Crusher on Star Trek The Next Generation? He was never beaten within an inch of his life for doing something right. On the contrary, he went from glorious success, to glorious success. And I hated him for it. I thought him a smug little twerp and wished to put him in a red shirt and beam him onto the original Enterprise to die die die messily.

Whatever your story, and whoever your hero is, you want the reader to sympathize with him or her. The best way to do that is visit heartbreak upon him or her in the opening scene.

Why? Because you want the reader to care what happens to your characters. Until your reader is fully vested in your characters, s/he can depart at the least provocation. Once the readers care what happens to your hero, they'll bleed a little when you cut him. You want this. The reader will want to stick around long enough

Once you've introduced your hero to your readers, something had better happen. Perhaps the hero is given a quest or a task.

Suppose the French Navy is preparing an invasion of England, and someone must stop it. That's something with which most of my readers can identify.

Conversely, suppose the US Army is preparing an invasion of Canada. Well, sorry Brits and Canucks, I remember the Raisin.

Likewise, if your hero is a Nazi, most people will only identify with his story goals if he's trying to thwart Hitler or something.

You don't want your audience rooting against your hero. When you saw the movie K-19 Widow Maker you wanted the Russians to carry the day. I hope you did not feel the same way when you saw Red Dawn? I totally identify with the Brits in The Bridge On The River Kwai. Less so with the Brits in The Patriot. (Or maybe more depending on how you feel about Mel Gibson.)

Alliances shift with time and if your audience include Brits when the villains are British, you've got to frame things carefully to say that you are excusing your audience from any participation in the villainy.

If you want to jump to the next writers mantra #7, it's here.

1 comment:

  1. Das Boot is a good example of this. It's a film about German submariners in W.W. II, but the audience gets in the characters' world and feels their sense of despair. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is another one. The original novel had an American ship as the enemy, while the movie switched that to a French privateer. Of course, in the novel, Captain Aubrey doesn't see any reason for being at war with America when he's supposed to be fighting Napoleon's navy.

    All in all, if the writing is good and if I can sympathize with what the characters want, I'll suspend my national identity while reading.


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