Friday, May 16, 2008

Torturing Characters

Whee! Today is a lovely day to hike up the hill to the movie theater to see Prince Caspian, and I am way too excited about that. I might even get wild and crazy and go from the theater to the A&W nearby and get a root-beer float to enjoy on the hike home.

A few little updates:
I am now a published photographer. If you get the Del Rey Internet Newsletter, a photo I took at the Nebula Awards is featured, and I even got photo credit for it. The other photo from the awards in the newsletter was taken with my camera, though I didn't take it. Unfortunately, my books weren't mentioned in the newsletter, and the photo credit doesn't mention me being an author, so I don't know that having my name in there will do much good other than to my ego.

For e-book fans, I checked into why an eReader version of the new book doesn't seem to be showing up, and apparently it's supposed to be available, but for whatever reason it didn't show up in the Random House system and therefore didn't get distributed. My editor is seeing to it that it gets out there. We decided to blame the computer, but then since we're both big Battlestar Galactica fans, we worried that the computer won't be happy about that when it becomes sentient, and it might rise up and attack us for making it the scapegoat. Though I guess we're safe as long as the computer can't hold a gun and hasn't developed a way to appear totally human.

Now, to clarify and expand upon an earlier post (inspired by some comments). When I referred to "torturing" characters or otherwise being mean to them, I don't necessarily mean that literally. We're not engaging in character S&M here. What I do mean is making things as difficult as possible for characters -- giving them serious obstacles to their goals, pitting them against a villain who may be stronger than they are, giving them goals that may be more than they can handle and making them absolutely give their all in pursuit of their goals. When things are difficult like that, it proves that the task was difficult and that the hero is truly worthy in being able to achieve it. The hero learns and grows through the torture, and realizes because of it exactly what he's made of. He overcomes and triumphs.

It seems to be easier to tolerate this kind of character torture in genre fiction -- romance, sf/f, mystery, adventure -- for a couple of reasons. For one, it is in pursuit of a goal or aim, usually one greater than the character. The character sacrifices for the greater good, with the goal of saving the world, bringing the wicked to justice, stopping evil, and so forth. For another, the character usually chooses the path that leads to this suffering. He could avoid all the problems by turning his back and walking away. He's not a victim, and he's not passive. In more so-called "literary" fiction, there's often a great deal of suffering, but just because life sucks, and often the characters are passive. Bad things happen to them not because they're putting themselves in the way of terrible danger for the greater good, but because life just sucks and is unfair. Maybe that's part of my trouble in reading those Lemony Snicket books -- those kids are going through all the woes not because they've taken on a mission or have any particular goal other than surviving. They do pull themselves together and come up with plans for overcoming and surviving, but otherwise they're passive in that things happen to them just because of who they are, not because of what they choose to do.

And now I need to head to the movies. Maybe I'll report back with a review.

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