copyright 2012, Pat BertramI like my characters and don’t enjoy hurting them, so my novels tend to focus on unraveling the mystery of the situation, because one thing I do understand is that at the heart of all books is a discovery. In a mystery, the discovery is the killer. In a romance, the discovery is love. In a character driven novel, the discovery is the nature of the character himself.
But the truth is, you need to hurt your hero. If the hero doesn’t hurt, why should we care? And if he doesn’t hurt, how would we ever discover his emotional core, what it is that he really cares about? When we discover what the character cares about, we care about him, and want to read to see how he reacts to the hurt and to find out what he is going to do to make it stop.
True character is revealed in the choices a person makes under pressure or when he is hurting or both. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation will be and the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature. Pressure is necessary. Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little.
In Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, David Gerrold wrote: “You need to ask yourself these questions in every situation. Asking these questions brings each scene to life: Why is the moment important? Where is the pain? Why does it hurt? And most important — what will make it worse?”
In life, experiences often become meaningful with reflection and time. In retrospect, a horrendous experience takes on an aura of excitement or even happiness because we remember being fully alive. In art, experiences are meaningful now, at the moment they are happening on the screen or in the novel. We can see instantly that the character is hurting, but we can also feel the excitement of the moment, the adrenaline rush. It all happens at once, the reflection and the experience, which explains why movies and books sometimes seem more real than life itself. Without the character hurting, however, the experience becomes muted, less real.
So: the name of the game is hurt the hero. I guess I’ll just have to learn to like it.
Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado.
When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book -- character and story driven novels that can't easily be slotted into a genre -- she decided to write her own.
Light Bringer is Bertram's fourth novel. Light Bringer, Daughter Am I, More Deaths Than One, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, are all available from Second Wind Publishing.
Bertram's publisher says: "I was told by some other small publishers with whom I had done research that I was going to get mountains of unacceptable crap for every worthy thing I received. So when I got Pat's manuscript for A Spark of Heavenly Fire, which was like the first submission to Second Wind, I thought, 'OMG, is this possible?!' I knew in the first 20 pages that she was the real thing."
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