Thursday, February 12, 2009

Don't Cheat the Reader

“The main character must act, not be acted upon.”
I mentioned yesterday that I put a “What motivates my characters?” stickie on my monitor. To its left is a note reminding me to use the senses in my stories. The next stickie contains today’s quote. I wrote it down, but didn’t include the source. I’m certain it’s from one of the books I cited previously on this blog. My apologies to the author for my sloppy note taking.

You may have seen the phrase deux ex machina. This is where an outside force unexpectedly intervenes in the plot line to resolve an unresolvable situation, or to tie up loose ends in the plot. Lightning strikes the bad guy before he can shoot the protagonist. The hero inherits money from an uncle he didn’t know he had just in time to save him from losing his house and family. Someone or something other than the main character solves his problem for him. Today’s editors frown on such endings. Some even state this in their author guidelines.

I read a novel last month that concluded with another character saving the protagonist’s life, thus resolving one of the major issues of the story. I felt let down by this ending. The bad guy didn’t win, but it wasn’t because the good guy stopped him.

I don’t use this plot device in my stories. Maybe it’s because of the note on my monitor reminding me everyday to make sure my main character solves his own problems.

1 comment:

AVR said...

Yes, I agree that the main character should solve his own problem, not anybody else in the story. That is how the character grows in the story and is the reader's "hero". You don't want your main characters to be too wimpy, they need to sort through their own issues, then solve any more that you give them with the other main character of your story.