Mark Terry

Monday, October 23, 2006

One Damned Thing After Another

October 23, 2006
Anybody who's lived long enough--say, older than 12 years of age--has probably figured out that life is one damned thing after another. Your boss is crabbing at you, the bills come due, your kid got an E on a test, your dentist told you you need a crown, you get a flat tire on the way home from the dentist, you burn dinner because you were yelling at your kid, the cable goes out in the middle of your favorite show...

All pretty trivial. Since I write thrillers, the "one damned thing after another" tends to be less trivial. In THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, for example, terrorists steal a genetically engineered virus, the main character has panic attacks, the FBI agent running the case doesn't want him working it, the Deputy Director of Homeland Security doesn't want him working the case, the terrorists find out he's on the case and try to get him off it, people are lying to him, the cops want him for questioning...

In fiction, "one damned thing after another" doesn't haven't to be as dramatic as Derek's day in Pitchfork--it's just the sub-genre I'm working in.

I was thinking about the 1980s TV show "thirtysomething" in this context. For anybody who is too young, this hit show was about 6 or 7 college friends and their lives as they entered their thirties. The two main characters started an ad agency together, and the story focused on the two of them and their wives and children. The stories tended to rotate around their disagreements with each other, how their marriages affected their jobs, how business would be up, then down (and eventually they went out of business and went together to work for a big ad agency, and their boss loved one of them and hated the other), how the kids get sick, the career woman turned housewife feels inadequate because she doesn't work, how the other wife gets cancer, how their friends sex lives, love lives, careers... how your business isn't going well and you haven't gotten paid in months and your savings are at rock bottom and your furnace goes up...

The show worked, although sometimes critics called it "whinysomething." Which was appropriate, but for those of us who were in our late-20s or 30s, the show worked quite well. (And honestly, you don't find that people whine?) The show was all about "one damned thing after another."

In literary terms we've decided to call "one damned thing after another" conflict.

Conflict can be external--the terrorists and the FBI honchos who don't like Derek in PITCHFORK.

Or conflict can be internal--Derek's panic attacks and self-doubt and superstition.

But your fiction's gotta have it. A novel about a perfectly happy person who has no troubles or conflicts in her life is, well... boring. Would you want to read a book like that?

Would Harry Potter be half as interesting if he was an innocent bystander at Hogwarts, just a new student from a magical family who watches from the sidelines as someone else is stalked by the evil Lord Voldemort?

No, my friends, he would not.

So no matter what type of novel you're writing, remember, conflict is the key to an interesting story. Don't be too nice to your main characters, don't cut them a break, don't give them a good day. Remember the book of Job in the Bible, where God and Satan use poor Job as a kind of intergalactic football in the Universal Super Bowl. Make your main character miserable--your readers will love you for it.

Best,
Mark Terry

7 Comments:

Blogger Rashenbo said...

You forgot to add... "And your dog makes a stinky pool of runny crap on the carpet."

This is an interesting post. Your story sounds interesting and you've got some great points!

I'm glad I found you!

Cheers.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks!

9:59 AM  
Blogger Rob Gregory Browne said...

Ahh, yes. Conlict. Where would our stories be without it? Where would our nightly news be without it? Even the best commercials are about conflict.

I was reading something today about the old saw, put your hero up a tree and throw rocks at him. This writer (whose name, unfortunately, escapes me) said, forget the rocks, throw BOULDERS at him.

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