Monday, February 4, 2013
Give them pleasure - the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare. -- Alfred Hitchcock

dis·com·fort: /disˈkəmfərt/
Noun: Lack of physical comfort. Verb: Make (someone) feel uneasy.
Synonyms: noun.-- inconvenience - trouble -  embarrassment - upset- uneasiness  annoyance - distress - malaise - disquiet - hardship - hurt - trouble

For the past few weeks I have been revising my middle grade novel. As I work through this second draft I have discovered that somewhere along the way I began to see my protagonist as my child instead of the main character. I have forgotten that in the writing process I am an author first, a mom second.  As a result I have omitted a key element in moving the story forward. I have failed to provide my protagonist with the proper amount of discomfort.

According to Robert Newton Peck, "...successful fiction hinges on one simple ploy: discomfort." Throughout the story my protagonist does face some discomfort, but rarely is it enough. I noticed that each time I put her in an uncomfortable situation, I put on my Super-Mom garb and charge in to save her just in the nick of time. Whew! Discomfort avoided. Although I may feel better about keeping her safe, when she's safe, my reader feels safe too, which means, they can put the book down. That is not what I want them to do. I want them sitting on the edge of their seat fighting with her all the way to the end of the book. I want them cheering her along every step of the way. Hoping and praying that everything turns out okay.

When I think about the books that pulled me in and held me until the very last page, it was always because I cared about what was going to happen to the protagonist. How will Katniss survive the Hunger Games? What will become of Ivan? Will Charlotte keep Wilbur from being Christmas dinner? Although I suspected it would all work out, it was the continual discomfort of the protagonist that made me want to turn the page to see how everything turned out.

What do you think? Should a main character have more or less discomfort? Is it necessary for you to feel their anguish to keep reading? How do you balance discomfort in your work? It is said it takes a village to raise a child, I think it takes one to write a book also. I'd love to hear your thoughts on showing discomfort in your writing. You are, after all, part of my village.


Meredith said...

I always want to save my characters! But you're right about discomfort. You have to keep the reader invested in the character's struggle. Great post!

Yvonnes Poetry Corner said...

Great post, enjoyed the read. I used to love Hitchcock movies.


Annalisa Crawford said...

I write for adults, so it's probably a bit different, but my characters are always in some sort of peril - either mental or physical. I can't help myself - there are more serial killers in my work than is probably good for me (and I don't even write crime!)

Julie Luek said...

It is, so I read, the work of good fiction. Indeed, suspense keeps the plot moving forward. In my one fiction attempt, I didn't work that angle very well and I'm sure it made the read boring!

Mark Means said...

To triumph over adversity there needs -to be- adversity to triumph over :)

Personally, I really like stories where the main character is beaten battered, and bruised....physically or mentally..and still manages to succeed. It makes the success that much sweeter :)

Thanks for stopping by my blog and you have a pretty nifty little place here, as well. Looking forward to seeing more.

Scribbles From Jenn said...

Thanks Meredith. I guess saving them is a natural tendency.

Yvonne, I still like Hitchcock. He remains the master.

Annalisa, peril appears to be the key in most genre's.

Julie, I feel the same about my story. I wish I had discovered this about me before now.

Thanks Mark, I enjoyed the visit. You are right adversity does make success sweeter.

Johanna Garth said...

That's a great Hitchcock quote. And yes, I think something should always be at stake otherwise its hard for the reader to keep pushing forward.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Sometimes it's hard to let them struggle. I fought with that when I first began writing. And I'm not even a mom!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

What an interesting concept. I have to go back on my own WIP now and see if I've been doing that. You woke me up, Jenn. Thanks!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

With my last manuscript, I'd worried I'd dumped TOO much on my main character!

Liesel K Hill said...

Great post! Very interesting. I know this is a personal preference thing, but I balance discomfort by writing from multiple perspectives. It helps to see the discomfort of one character through their own eyes, and then moderate it by seeing it through another's eyes. Maybe even if you aren't one to use multiple POVs, you could still use other characters and their reactions to balance things out? Thanks for visiting my blog earlier. I'm now following you via GFC. :D

Nicole said...

I like to think of Dory from Finding Nemo: "If nothing ever happens to him, nothing'll ever *happen* to him. Not much fun for little Harpo."

The same goes for our characters. ;)

Scribbles From Jenn said...

Johanna, pushing the reader forward is my goal for the week.

L. Diane, it is hard, but it's like watching a chick hatch, struggling prepares them for the trials of life.

Joylene, glad to be of service.

Alex, I should have that problem.

Welcome Liesel! I think I'll take a look at things through the other character's eyes.

Nicole, thanks for sharing a quote from a movie I love. Dory is always full of good advice.

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