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.