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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sympathetic, not Pathetic

The title harkens back to my subject of this end-of-the-year blogging: how we write sympathetic -- never pathetic -- main characters. Author Mary Lynn Mercer has an excellent blog on the subject, written in 2003. For today's web tip, let me send you to her. She is working with the exact character traits and problems I've been discussing here, and she does a nice job with good examples. Check her out!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 Top Ten

How do we make sense of the years? News outlets are famous for their lists of important events. Although I suspect that doesn't begin to touch what a specific year may mean to us, I'm willing to offer up my list of the top ten events of 2011 for my own family:

  • 1. Top of the top has to be the birth of a new grandson. Welcome, Vaughn Arthur Aylworth, born September 12, 2011.

  • 2. Right up there behind Vaughn comes AylaPalooza IV. This biannual reunion has become a family tradition and treasure. This year we had extra family, but among our children, kids-in-law and grandkids, the only one missing was Austin, our oldest grandchild, who is serving a full-time mission in Chile. He's exempt because of his circumstance. Everyone else was there and we had a wonderful time.

  • 3. Next for me is birthdays -- lots of birthdays for the wonderful people we enjoyed at AP IV. You all know who you are!

  • 4. This was the year when I joined LDS Storymakers, attended the national conference, and became more involved with my writing than I've been in a while.

  • 5. I also joined ANWA (American Night Writers; long story), attended their national conference, and got involved there as well.

  • 6. Through very little fault of my own, I got elected to the Board of Directors of LDS Storymakers, and I've met some wonderful people who both inspire and help my writing.

  • 7. I finished the manuscript for A SECRET FAMILY RECIPE, got it to my editors at Covenant, and had it approved for publication -- sometime in 2013.

  • 8. Although I already mentioned birthdays, one stands out: I got to see my dad celebrate his 89th. This means he has outlived both his parents and all his older siblings, and he was there to enjoy my kids and grandkids at AylaPalooza, celebrating with us. You go, Dad!

  • 9. I made the decision to write about Lorenzo di Medici, sketched out the basic plot for a story, and have spent the year doing online and book research. Next March I will go to Florence to do more in-person research. So cool!

  • 10. Tied for tenth are a number of smaller items: little trips away with my honey, visits to see grandbabies, seeing friends' books do well in the market, watching my sweet old dog show affection to my sweet little granddaughter . . . I've a thousand such moments, all precious.

To everyone who made this year a little more special, to all of you who follow my ramblings, to all who read my books, THANK YOU. This has been quite a year -- and the next one can only be better.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Back to the Sympathy Question

I hope your Christmas was merry. Happy Boxing Day! (at least for the Canadians and Aussies in our midst).

As promised, I'm meandering a little farther into that question of what makes a character sympathetic and when she becomes simply pathetic. A novelist friend told me she likes to put her characters "through hell" before she lets them have a happy ending. That certainly works -- sometimes.

As a popular example of what has worked, let's look at the Harry Potter series. When we first meet Harry, he's a 10-year-old orphan, turning 11, living under the stairs in an abusive situation where cousin Dudley is king. As the series progresses, we see him go through a variety of emotional and physical tortures at Hogwart's, in company with the Order of the Phoenix, and finally, in an all-out war. Surely Harry is put through hell before he gets his happy ending.

Of course along the way there are humorous, fun moments, discoveres of joyous wonder and delight, fast friendships solidified, and an array of successful, happy moments as well as the dark ones.

But what if we had skipped Hagrid and the trip to Hogwart's, Nearly Headless Nick and Dumbledore, and had spent the whole first book watching Harry suffer abuse at the hands of his reluctant relatives on Privet Drive? My guess? There never would have been a second book or the Harry Potter phenomenon that has enthralled the world. We want to see people triumph over terror and tragedy. Watching victims while they endlessly suffer is a different kind of torture, not an enjoyable reading experience.

Perhaps the question is part pacing (How much shall I let him suffer here before I cut off this scene?) and part balance (That torment she just went through was terrible. I need to give her a triumph equal to it before we move on.) I suspect it all comes down to knowing our audience: what they want, how much sad they will endure before a moment of comic relief, how much sorrow they can handle before we give them joy. It's a delicate balance, but well worth learning.