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Throwing Rocks

Vladamir Nabokov suggested that, "The writer's job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them."

It's common advice from writing coaches, to endanger your protagonist, to set them challenges that they need to overcome to get to where they're going—which is often simply returning the situation to normal. Think of what Frodo went through in The Lord of The Rings, just to get rid of that pesky ring.

No one likes a smart arse, and a completely indomitable hero would be boring, running the risk of making their opponents more appealing...which is always likely to happen anyway, as readers identify more with character flaws than moral strength. Fighting the system is more romantic than defending it. Far more murderers' names are recalled, than the lawmen who captured or killed them.

A protagonist becomes more attractive when they show their humanity. If they make mistakes, especially if the reader knows they're doing so and they don't, it elicits sympathy and the reader gets behind their efforts. Such vulnerability needn't make the hero sappy: we all know what sort of hand a velvet glove contains.

Some authors take their abuse of their protagonist to extremes. Jo Nesbö regularly throws his Swedish detective Harry Hole into ghastly situations, including being addicted to booze and drugs, getting captured and tortured, as well as framed and suspended from duties, beaten-up, stabbed and shot. In the first novel of the series The Bat, Harry is a fish out of water, investigating a serial killer in Australia and is also drinking like a fish!

I introduced my protagonist Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle standing on a Cornish beach in winter, looking at the nude corpse of a naturist, who appears to have been murdered. He's trying not to think about the last time he was there, with his wife, who died in a traffic accident two years before. Hopefully, readers will sympathise with his state of mind, while admiring his fortitude in pursuing the killer.

He clings to his job as a way of coping with life, as he spirals down into depression, and it's not until the end of Book 2 that he's functioning anything like normally. He's been brought low by his illness, but his detective colleagues have also faced threats—his ageing deputy is mugged and knocked unconscious and kicked hard enough to break ribs, prompting his retirement. In the next book, his replacement becomes the last victim of a serial killer, pounded to death with a primitive mace—a club with nails. On another case, a detective's personal life is disrupted when a murdering husband and wife, disgraced intelligence agents with a grudge against society, hack into her emails. They glean enough information to attack the police force's site, disrupting the investigation into them.

Various coppers get clobbered while making arrests, but Neil is cleverly poisoned by the ex-agents, who use poison-dart frog toxin to knock him out, sending him into hallucinations. In my WIP, at the end of the story, Neil will be stabbed and slashed, defending himself by almost battering his assailant to death with an extendable baton. He'll be in intensive care at the close of the story, receiving blood transfusions, and facing suspension for his attack on the swordsman—who looks likely to die.

I'm looking forward to putting my protagonist in jeopardy...burying him in an avalanche of violence with consequences for his career.

What rocks have you thrown at your characters?

How are they damaged by the threats to their life?

Do they wreak revenge?

Have you killed any of your goodies off?

This is the writing job I have set out for myself:
A cat is stuck up a tree and a dog is barking. Children are throwing rocks.
They think that they are helping the cat get down out of the tree.
The cat is gradually demoralized and everyone gets mad at the cat for acting sad and losing interest in their fun game of chase. The cat then takes a risk which potentially gives it a fresh start. Unintended consequences ensue.
I use this framework to compare a modern relationship to that of Einstein and his wife. Einstein is a victim of his wife's criticism and Svengali-like control but he is also the villain because his selfish choices lead to irreparable harm of everyone in his family. In the modern relationship, the woman's situation parallel's Einstein's but with a few feminine twists. Her choice is between Stockholm syndrome and doing something that she swore she would never do.
I know how the unhappy endings to these sorts of stories go and I wonder if happy endings are possible. By writing such a story, I hope to find out if I can come up with one.
For some people, love is criticism and control because that is how their parents expressed love. For others, love is working to understand what the other person needs. Those people often wilt in such a codependent relationship. At the end, there are no villains because.. forgive them for they know not what they do.
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What rocks have you thrown at your characters?

Um. I suppose terrible worlds which put them in terrible situations. Mostly.

How are they damaged by the threats to their life?

Well. I'd say they're very sad and angry and unhappy and in impossible with a tendency to despair and lose hope and all that stuff...

Do they wreak revenge?

Well. Yeah. Otherwise what would be the point?

Have you killed any of your goodies off?

Don't you think they're all good ... deep down inside?


What rocks have you thrown at your characters?
I used to be kind to my characters (even the baddies were charming), but in this novel, I throw every stone I can pick up at my protagonist. - I'm so mean ... Well, it's his own fault. He throws them first and they ricochet back at him.

Have you killed any of your goodies off?
Yap. They pretty much all die, but one. The baddies survive mostly. (I fancied an experiment)