Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why It's the First Rule of Fiction

Some of the commenters on yesterday's post seem to be bemoaning the cruelty of Kids These Days. For whatever it's worth, both the author and the reader are about my age, and the point's entirely legitimate (and, in this instance, very amusingly expressed, which is why I posted it).

If there's no conflict, there's no story.

If there is conflict, somebody's hurting.

Hence the necessity for writers to hurt their characters. And yes, sometimes this is difficult when you become too attached to them: that's one reason Mary Sue/Marty Stu fiction is often so deathly dull to read, because the author can't bear to harm one hair on the head of the all-too-perfect character who's the author's wish-fulfillment stand-in.

When I discuss point of view (POV) with my writing students, I always tell them that the POV character should be the one who's in the most pain.

Serene happiness is lovely in life, but really boring in fiction.

C'mon: have you ever read a story about someone who had no problems? And did you enjoy reading that story?

If we ever reach Utopia, it will be the end of a lot of art. But since we're nowhere close, I'm not worried on that score!

P.S. Anon., Tolkien's as popular as ever; I'm teaching a Tolkien course this very semester. As for Hemingway, my students refer to him often, although they -- and other people -- do tend to misspell his name. Thanks for not putting in an extra "m"!


  1. LOL I love Mary Sue's answer. Susan, thank you for the explanation. It made a lot of sense. I went and checked out the MarySue web page. That too made sense, was helpful, and also was lots of fun! In some respects I'm being the proverbial fly on the wall here, but I'm learning a lot. :)


  2. Yay for the Tolkien class!!! That was my favorite class (tied with Star Trek: Law and Ethics) at UNR.

  3. It's certainly one of my favorite classes to teach!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.