Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Slumdog lesson

Spoiler Alert. If you haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire, this post might give some things away. I'll try not to, but just been warned.

I've just seen Slumdog Millionaire. It's good. It's hard to watch. And it reminded me that that in order to have a truly happy ending, one that satisfies and fits the characters, those characters must go to hell and back.

We're nice people. We try to protect the ones we love from harm. Particularly as women, we seemed to be hard wired to make sure everyone is comfortable, fed and watered, with their emotional needs met. And that includes our fictional people. It's hard to put your favorite characters in peril, over and over again. But that is the only thing that will make your book worthy of being printed.

It's not that your protagonist has to have a gun to her head every other page, but the stakes must be high, must be real and must be out of reach. Your character must come this close, only to have her dreams snatched away. Again and again. She must betray and be betrayed, hurt and be hurt, lie and be lied to. It’s watching characters get out of the messes that make fiction interesting.

There were times during Slumdog that I had to put my sweater over my head until the worst on screen was over. Jamal Malik wasn’t so lucky. He had to lose everything in order to get the one thing he wanted. And the audience wanted him to succeed. If we hadn't seen Jamal swim in a cesspool to get to his hero or come this close to being blinded, we wouldn't have cared so much about him.

What trials and tribulations do you put your characters through?


Anonymous said...

This is what I was talking about the other day, when I said I can't let the history aspect of my book distance me from all the unhappy and uncomfortable feelings in the scenes. We have to depict the bad stuff and show how it REALLY feels--our characters can't tuck their heads under their sweaters.

That said, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to see this movie. :)

Cricket McRae said...

Must say I'm looking forward to seeing this movie.

My general rule of thumb is to run my characters up a tree and then throw rocks at them until they figure out how to get back down.

Jess Lourey said...

I hire a freelance editor, and she always makes me go harder on my characters. "Fiction says 'no' to the protagonist, Jessie," she tells me. Agh. You're right, Terri. It's hard to put them through it, but that's the point, isn't it? Static characters are not interesting and don't teach us a thing.

Terri Thayer said...

Run them up a tree and throw rocks at them is pretty sage advice.

I think about the characters in books that I like and it's always the ones who have lost a lot but still go on that grab me.

As for the movie, some of it was too graphic and I had to hide my eyes a little.

Thanks for playing.

Deborah Sharp said...

My character has had to wrestle a gator, get run off the road into a canal, face down a rattlesnake, and dodge a would-be-beau's jealous girlfriend, who's wielding a broken beer bottle ... but, physical challenges aside, I do wonder if I'm making her EMOTIONAL responses "real'' enough??
Thanks for the food for thought.