Sometimes, as writers, we can be a little precious about our characters. Probably without realising it. There is a chance (slim, I know) that sometimes, just maybe, there is a possibility, that we might be pampering them, just a little too much.
While revising Blood Legacy I came across a scene (just one... so far) where I definitely let my MC get off way too easy.
So who wants to do a quick exercise with me? It'll make the story better, I promise.
1. Take a scene from your WIP that could have ended disastrously, but instead your MC breezes right on through, with barely a scratch. In my example, my MC is about to fight a young creature which is supposed to be impossible to beat fully grown, and close to impossible to beat as a baby. So what is wrong with this scene?
The shadow pounced as a terrible growl ripped from its jaws.Did you figure it out? My MC just beat the odds, and what does she get? A scratch. Yep. One measly scratch.
The creature’s leap was aimed at me, it was oblivious to Jeran. I ducked down and swung my foot up to meet its face, the impact made a satisfying crunch. I glimpsed two inch claws moments before they made contact with my shoulder. Jeran propelled toward the creature’s side and bit into its flank.
The creature snarled and Jeran dropped to the ground beside me. Its surge through the air had taken it several feet past us, and it spun to face our direction, preparing for another attack. It hissed and yowled and paced to and fro. It seemed to be struggling to see us, only one golden orb was visible now. I guessed my boot had done some damage.
It lunged again. This time I managed to dodge its onslaught, nothing but its slipstream touching me. I exploded forward at the last second, the heel of my open palm smacking into its ribs with a resounding crack.
The wild energy that had permeated the atmosphere a moment before faded, and animal fear filled its place. The creature sensed that it had met an opponent it might not be able to beat, and self preservation was winning out over the possibility of a meal. After a moment’s indecision it let out a furious yowl and careered into the night.
I stayed tense, only relaxing when all traces of its furious energy had faded. Jeran let out a low growl.
You’re possibly not as useless as I first thought, he said after a long silence.
“Thanks.” There was no point taking offence. I reached up to my shoulder with my undamaged arm and felt something warm and sticky coating my skin. I searched my backpack for something to wrap the wound with and staunch the flow of blood. I ended up having to rip a strip from one of my many layers.
2. Examine the details of the scene and ask yourself, "What is the worst that can happen here? If it happens, can my story go forward?"
If you answer the first question, and the answer to the second is 'yes', then go to step three. If the answer to the second question is 'no' then scale back the answer to your first question just a tad, keep doing that until your characters are in a dire situation, but the story can still keep moving forward.
What is the worst that can happen here? My MC could die.
If she dies can the story keep going? Well, no. Not unless the story changes to one about necromancers, and that's not going to happen. (Not because I don't like stories about necromancers - Garth Nix anyone? - it's just not what this story is about.)
Scale it back? She could suffer a serious injury. Oh! POISON! She could be bitten by poisonous monster fangs. Perfect.
Can she keep going? Yes she can, but it's going to be a lot tougher moving forward than when she just had a piddly scratch.
3. Write your new scene!
The shadow pounced. A rumbling growl ripped from its jaws. I was ready.
The creature aimed for me, oblivious to Jeran. I ducked, my weight balanced over my left foot as my right swung to meet its face. I missed by inches, my boot only grazing the creature’s side. I glimpsed two inch claws moments before searing heat erupted in my shoulder. I watched Jeran snapping at the beast’s hindquarters and his fangs slicing into flesh as a red haze ate at my vision.
The creature snarled and spun to face us. I had less than a second to prepare for the next assault, and I knew my left arm was no more than dead weight. I breathed through the pain. I needed to make this one count. I didn’t think I’d get another chance.
This time, as the creature surged toward me, I shifted minutely to the left, my good hand darting to the side. I felt resistance as my blade sank into its target, and then it was ripped from my hand as the creature’s weight carried it past.
It lunged again and I stumbled to the side, expecting the fire of claws ripping into my flesh. Nothing but its slipstream touched me. With the last of my strength I exploded forward, the heel of my palm smacking into its ribs with a resounding crack. I saw why it had missed me. Jeran was perched on its back, his fangs sunk into the creature’s throat. He leaped off before he could be dislodged as the beast gave a violent shake.
The wild energy permeating the atmosphere faded and animal fear filled its place. The creature sensed that it had met an opponent it might not be able to beat, and self preservation was winning out over the possibility of a meal. After a moment’s indecision it let out a furious yowl and careered into the night.
I stayed tense, trying to ignore the swaying of the world and the ground that seemed too close. Only when all traces of its furious energy had faded did I relax and collapse in a heap on the ground. Jeran let out a low growl.
You’re possibly not as useless as I first thought.
I didn’t have the strength to take offence. It was taking all my will to remain conscious. I reached up to my shoulder with my undamaged arm and probed the torn flesh. My breath hissed through my teeth and the encroaching haze crept further across my world. From what I could tell I had a ten centimetre gash running from my armpit to my collar bone. Everything was slicked and sticky.
I smell blood.
“Yea, I seem to have an abundance of it over here.” I tried to concentrate on the stars, or Jeran's dark shape, but the world seemed to be getting further and further away, and I had to strain to make my voice reach him.Now evil writer friends, go deal out some harsh punishments, err... tough love, to your precious characters.
Meerkaan venom. They have poison sacks concealed at the base of their claws. It would disable a man twice your size in minutes.
How'd you go? Did you follow along with the exercise with me? Are you sometimes a touch too nice to your characters? Or do you have no problems throwing live grenades at them?