Turn Up the Heat
By Suzanne Cordatos
One of the best ways to spend a summer afternoon is watching a sailing regatta. Lovely and peaceful, there is nothing quite like a fleet of colorful spinnakers billowing over sunlit waves, cool breezes kicking through the summer heat. As a bonus, no engine noises mar the view.
If you tally up the bruises afterward, participating in a race might be more akin to tackle football. My brother-in-law returned from two E-Scow regattas in one week proclaiming “My bruises got bruises!” With a wide smile, this sailor showed off his thighs streaked with multiple marks in shades of purple. Beaten up by a boom, apparently.
This sailor’s pride in accomplishment got me thinking as a writer. Main characters need “bruises on their bruises” to bring their challenge to a satisfying conclusion.
Are you too easy on your characters?
Beginning writers tend to love their characters too much and hesitate making their situations awful. Readers identify with characters and live through them: How would that character deal with something that, in real life, would be too scary to face?
Real writing fun starts when you dig holes deep enough to make your characters show their stuff. From the first pages, plant seeds—personal qualities—that will eventually help him or her save the day. One of my main characters wants to learn how to whistle just like her father. She works hard at it, puckering over and over. Perhaps your character has an uncanny ability to communicate with animals or throw his voice. A girl’s hair-braiding skills can be employed to rope-weaving. That whistle turns into a life-saving signal in the book’s climax.
No matter how outrageous the situation, your characters’ challenges will be met in a way that is believable if you have planted the seeds to their success early on. Your readers will root for him or her to jump figurative or literal chasms.
Is your villain nasty enough? Has he/she/it gone soft?
Think of any villain you love to hate. My current favorites are the actors on ABC’s Once Upon a Time series. Lana Parilla plays Snow White’s Evil Queen. Her colleague, Robert Carlyle, plays a delightfully devious Rumpelstiltskin. Both seek to fulfill their own agendas at any cost. Sparingly, authors can use superlatives to add weight. If Voldemort was merely trying to give Harry Potter a bad day once in a while would his triumphant end be worth reading thousands of pages? As the darkest wizard in generations, with a name people feared to speak, Voldemort was a worthy opponent for the good vs. evil quest.
Your readers deserve the smartest hero or heroine (even if they don't start out that way) and the toughest nemesis you can dream up. Well-earned victory over a true villain makes it worth the effort to bang up your character with a boom.
Pile on bruises on the bruises!
Your readers will forgive you—and enjoy the ride.