July 30, 2010

Don't Kill Them With Kindness

Halfway through reading DRACULA, I noticed one thing that was bugging me about how the story plays out, and as is the way with noticed things, I then couldn't stop seeing it. It's worth bringing up because it's a problem that can surface in any story. The problem is that the characters in DRACULA are all too damn agreeable.

There's a villain, sure, but Count Dracula only appears in a fairly small number of scenes. The majority of the book follows a group of friends who are trying to defeat the vampire. Like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, right? Except much of the plot of the Buffy series (and the most interesting part, as far as I'm concerned) focuses on the conflicts between the friends and their changing relationships. Whereas the Dracula slayers don't argue, they unquestioningly go along with whatever Van Helsing wants them to do, they always understand each other (often without even having to speak), and on the rare occasions when there is disagreement, forgiveness is soon asked for and immediately granted. That's all very nice for the characters, who have a difficult enough task in front of them, but where's the fun for the reader?

In real life, we hope for as little conflict and difficulty as possible. Real life doesn't usually make a good story. Stories need conflict, and the more conflict, the better. DRACULA delivers a strong main plot, complete with life-and-death stakes and mounting obstacles. But I wish Bram Stoker had spiced up the many planning scenes with some arguments and sniping. I mean, come on, three of the main characters were recent romantic rivals, and not once does anyone grumble, "If she'd chosen me, things would have turned out differently."

As I said in my last post, I'm always reading to learn, and this book was a good reminder to look for ways to make my characters cope with even more conflict. It's not easy, because I feel bad for them. And they feel bad when they fight, and as a result, it's been pointed out that my latest draft contains too many apologies. I'm really sorry about that.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Book distributor David "Skip" Prichard has an optimistic answer to Will the Book Survive?: "I think this is the most exciting time to be involved in the book business. Not only are books receiving more media attention, the new technologies offer an unprecedented opportunity to engage readers." (Thanks, PWxyz!)

→ Sonya Chung at The Millions analyzes different types of literary endings. (Thanks, Dystel & Goderich!)

1 comment:

Anna Scott Graham said...

This is so true. A few characters will take it in the shorts, for lack of a more refined way to put it. But yes, someone will have to suffer... Sorry about the suffering... :)))

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