How Could It Get Any Worse?

Villain: That’s my cue!  *presses button*

I posted about plot twists.  I posted about story structure.  I posted about narwhals.  Now it’s time to bring them all together.  (Except the narwhals– that was a joke.)

There is no hill in the world that keeps going down forever.  At some point, things will stop going down and start leveling out.  That’s the point at which you begin your long, hard climb back up to the top.

Characters have the same sort of hill.  As I have said before, they always have a plan, and that plan will always go wrong.  Things will keep going wrong until at last, things can’t possibly get any worse.  They have reached the bottom of the hill.  Unless this is a tragedy, that should serve as your cue to stop.  The main character is all alone in a barren wasteland, mortally wounded, and the villain’s Legions of Terror are riding over the hill.  And then it starts raining.

That is called your low point, for obvious reasons: the character can’t possibly go through more in order to achieve his goal and finish the story.  Well… he could be killed and have to come back from the dead, but that’s a little over the top.

It’s so fun to let things happen to your main character, it’s difficult to know when to stop.  He can still win with only one arm, right?  She probably doesn’t need her head.  Oh, I’ll only give him a little time upon The Rack…  Oops, too much.  Good thing he had a sidekick.

In some ways, we’re like the villain.  No, we’re like the villain’s omnipotent master who orchestrates the rise and fall of civilizations.  We destroy things.  It’s fun.  But sometimes you just have to let things get to a happy place again.  Very little satisfaction is derived from a story in which evil consumes the earth, and then chokes on it.  It might be fun to write, but it isn’t a fun story to end.

I’ve always felt for the little kid who, in a fit of anger, destroys his favorite toy.  Later, he realizes what he’s done, but it’s too late.  You’ve created a masterpiece, whether it looks like it or not.  It will be fun to torture the characters for a while, but eventually you’ll realize there’s no happy ending for this guy.  Even though it’s just a first draft, the ending is still important.  It decides whether you want to edit or not.

You have to recognize the bottom of the hill when it comes.  The main character has to be able to fight back to the top of the hill.  He can slip a couple times and slide back down the hill, but he can’t give up.  Happy endings are good.

I think this has turned into an explanation of why it’s morally wrong to write tragedies.  At least, why it’s depressing.  To keep this post from becoming depressing, however, a joke I found the other day:

The pessimist says, it cannot get any worse. The optimist joyfully exclaims, yes, it can!

Excuse me for being rather incoherent today.

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250 thoughts on “How Could It Get Any Worse?

      1. Why not? If you don’t have a good reason anyway…
        Unless you can’t think of a good way to write about narwhals. Writer’s block is an acceptable reason.

      2. Liam has a point. Narwhals have that horn on the top of their heads. Don;t get impaled!

  1. Hehe, I think this post did the exact opposite for me than what you probably intended. Now I know why my ending seemed so unimportant—nothing got bad enough, so their “redemption” was just kinda….oh, okay.

    Which is sad, because normally I DO have so much fun torturing my characters….

    1. I’ve never had that problem, though it isn’t too hard to visualize. If I got careless, I could end a story without any losses at all… which would be frightening.

      1. I think the problem was that I kept doing horrible, awful things to them within a scene, so when the scene ended, it was usually was tied up and not so horrible. But I wasn’t doing very much big, concerning-the-entire-plot kinda stuff. So when the ending came, there was the danger sense, like “Oh no, she’s got a dagger at her throat!” but there was nothing like, “Oh no! There’s nothing I can do to save everyone!” It was far more like, “Oh! I know what I can do!” In other words, the resolution just wasn’t very big. Which also made my cliffhanger at the very end not quite as big of a deal….

        Hmm, now I’m starting to find ways to make the novel so much more—*ahem*—eventful.

  2. You don’t have to torture your characters to make the villain seem horrible. Just have him/her torture the narwhals instead. 100% guaranteed to make the reader hate them.

  3. I don’t actually torture my characters for the “fun” of it (shocking revelation right there). Every thing I do in my books (or to my characters) I do because the story NEEDS it. So yeah, heads get lopped off, and secondary-characters drop off like flies, and everyone finishes the book so emotionally scarred I have to do some serious rehab in the sequels. But I definitely agree with the writer almost being the villain…bwhahaha! It can be true.

    Kill your darlings. The End.

    1. Really, I don’t either, but sometimes I get carried away in what the story “needs”. The side character needs to lose consciousness, and I start amputating things so she can do it through blood loss. There’s a simpler answer there, methinks, especially when small rocks are falling all around here– perhaps a glancing blow to the noggin.

      Anyway. As always, I wrote this for myself.

      1. And as always, you have helped other writers… or at least given us something to read and talk about. 🙂

      2. Yes, blow to the noggin. Facial cuts bleed a lot.
        I got to research leg-fractures today. Be sure to do your med-research before you write too far. Or plan. Finding out you’ve planned (or written) something medically a bad idea or incorrect is not fun.

  4. Ehehehe, I think I have a bit too much fun releasing my inner Morgoth to know when to stop a lot of the time – hence why I have such difficulties with endings. I’m one of those horrible people who doesn’t like being nice and having everything work out entirely happily. And when I do make a happy ending, there’ll be blood, sweat, tears and all manner of other unmentionable fluids spilt before I let them have it.

    I can’t decide if this is more a problem for my writing, or a problem for my pscyhe in general. Because contrary to popular belief I’m actually terrified of conflict and have an automatic reaction to want to make people feel better when they’re sad.

    . . . Why do we do that, preciousss?

    1. I heard someone say “I want a happy ending” while doing a group brainstorming session about their story. That struck me as extremely weird, though I don’t know why. I don’t usually plan the endings as happy or sad.

      It’s an interesting study how nice people love being evil. They are trained to be nice, but when they’re allowed to, they become evil. That’s why nice actors and actresses like playing nasty roles.

      1. *shrug* Maybe it’s a personality thing? We’re not naturally expressing our nasty side in our day to day actions, so we release it in a harmless fictive manner, either through acting or writing? Something like that, I’d imagine.

        Speaking of nastiness – your comments led to some revisions on Part Two, and I’m much happier with it now. Don’t suppose my favourite critic would mind nipping by and giving it another run through? I fixed the backstory as best I could, and tried to mitigate the over-talkative issue with Her Evilness. I felt there was something squicky with that right from the off, but it took someone pointing it out to remind me that it was a real problem 😛

      2. *taps out a Morse code message on the side of his tree, hoping his minions that are probably stationed inside playing bridge will hear him– hears an answering code– knocks again and waits for the team to strike– sees another woodpecker fly to the next tree and knock out the same rhythm* Oops.

      3. *picks up on the rhythm, but being illiterate in morse code, decides to sit down and listen to it for a while, and maybe contemplate annihilating the woodpecker*

  5. My fiancé and I sometimes argue about all the misery I put my characters through. He enjoys and writes light-hearted fiction, but when I try to do so I end up with a sadistic bunny trying to drive one poor girl to suicide. It’s more fun to include hurdles, makes the ending more satisfying!

    1. Sadistic bunnies… I have a sadistic bunny too! But he aids in the murder of a poor girl, he doesn’t kill her directly. Well… he kills the other one.

      I think I need to rethink my characters’ deaths.

      1. Haha. Very funny. Eh, oh well… *pulls out her marshmallow stick and starts roasting marshmallows* You don’t happen to have any chocolate and graham crackers, do you?

      2. Well, considering I’m just standing here in the bottom of this hole and I haven’t tried it yet, I have no clue.

        *starts to climb out of the hole, using the sticky marshmallows as hand- and footholds*

      3. *continues climbing* *mumbles under her breath as she does so* No wonder all of those rock-wall things are just wooden things with funny things screwed on in place, instead of real walls of rock.

      4. Yeah, sure, but who says I weigh anything at all? Maybe I’m like one of those models you see on TV who are so skinny, they weigh absolutely nothing.
        Not that it really matters if it’s turned on…

      5. I don’t think it did. You’re on the wrong side of the treadmill now— it’s either pushing you into a wall, or pushing you deeper into the hole.

      6. Don’t want to influence me. Hahah, that’s hilarious. For one, maybe it’s just that I automatically put sarcasm into things, but saying something like that still makes it sound as if it might be better off for my health not to. Heheh. Secondly, have I told you that I’ve stopped saying “I know, right?” almost entirely, and I even find myself using emoticons less? Next thing we know, you’re going to have me saying “indeed” all the time! Heheh.

        I’ll pick a different wall.

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