Friday, November 5, 2010

Is your protagonist in enough pain?

As I approach the climax of nearly every book I read, the protagonists are usually in severe pain emotionally, physically, or both.

I've discovered that this is part of tearing apart your hero, stacking the odds against them, setting them up for the climax, the final turning point of the story where they will either succeed or fail. It's drama. In some cases its melodrama. In nearly every case, it's good story telling.

Below is an extreme example from the novel Intensity by Dean Koontz. It's also a great example of info-dumping and, to some degree, hyperbole - which can be negative literary terms.  But Koontz uses the two techniques intentionally and artfully in a manner that almost makes the reader cry (laugh?) with empathy.
A headache like an endless incoming tide throbbed in waves across her brow and along her right temple, and the pain in her neck was savage. Her swollen index finger was a world of misery in itself...her ankles felt as though they had been bruised and abraded...and her left wrist stung where she had skinned it...Her joints ached and her muscles burned...she had a stitch in her left side that was pulling like a needle threaded with hot wire...
Here's another example, this time from Neil Gaiman's novel Stardust. It is simple, and cleverly inserted.
Tristran sat at the top of the spire of cloud and wondered why none of the heroes of the penny dreadfuls he used to read so avidly were ever hungry. His stomach rumbled, and his hand hurt him so. Adventures are all very well in their place, he thought, but there's a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain.

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