Elements of Fiction Writing - Conflict and Suspense

Elements of Fiction Writing - Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell Read Free Book Online

Book: Elements of Fiction Writing - Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell Read Free Book Online
Authors: James Scott Bell
is, how do you hook the reader with an emotional investment in such characters? Why, for example, would we be willing to follow a man as unpleasant as Scrooge through an entire story?
    The answer is in the emotions of hope and desire.
    If you introduce your negative Lead correctly, you can raise the hope that he will change his negative ways. This is, in fact, a hope for redemption. One of the most powerful emotional moments we can have in our lives is when we are shown mercy for a wrong committed, and change as a result.
    Take a recent movie example. Walt Kowalski as played by Clint Eastwood in
Gran Torino.
Walt is an old, crotchety, short-tempered bigot. He hates the “slopes” who have moved in next door. Hates what’s happened to his formerly all-white, working-class neighborhood.
    So why should we care to watch a character like this?
    In a word,
redemption
. We watch a negative Lead to see if he will be redeemed or receive the “just desserts” of his actions.
    But we must be given reasons to watch up front.
    That’s why Eastwood begins his movie with Walt standing by his wife’s casket. He’s just lost her, so there is an immediate sympathy factor. That is intensified as his granddaughter comes into the church dressed inappropriately, and we hear Walt’s two sons talking in ways that indicate family estrangement.
    Then there’s the scene where Walt opens up just a bit to the young priest, telling of his time in Korea, the horror of it, and how intimately he knows death. He admits that he may not know as much about life.
    That’s enough to carry us through all the antisocial acts and utterings.
    So the conflict in Act One between Walt and his neighbors, the local gang, and the boy is set in the context of a man who has decency inside him, waiting to get out again.
    The other strong emotion relating to a negative Lead is the desire to see the character get what she deserves. In other words, wanting to see justice done. In this way, once again, the values of the community are vindicated: When bad people do bad things they are ultimately caught and punished. Our world is restored to order.
    Of course, you can have a negative Lead “get away with it” at the end, which is another statement about the world. Just know that the number of successful novels written with that sort of ending is not very many.
Antihero
    The antihero Lead is one who does not care about the community. He is living apart, according to his own code, and does not wish to get involved in anyone else’s troubles.
    Unlike the negative Lead, the antihero is not actively pursuing goals that would have a deleterious impact on others, except occasionally by chance.
    The antihero may actually live apart from others, as does Ethan Edwards, the character played by John Wayne in
The Searchers.
He comes out of the wilderness, alone, and goes back to the wilderness, alone.
    But an antihero may also be among people, yet still not caring to get involved with the real troubles of the community. Rick in
Casablanca
runs a popular saloon in French- occupied territory in World War II. He is allowed to run it because he takes no sides in the war effort. In fact, he says, “I stick my neck out for nobody.” That is the quintessential guiding philosophy of the antihero.
    Or think of Dirty Harry Callahan, the San Francisco police detective. He is a professional. His community is the law enforcement community. But he doesn’t like their rules and regulations, so he “lives apart” from them. Which is why he is in constant trouble.
    The conflict in an antihero story comes when he is dragged into the troubles of others and is forced to deal with it. Then, at the end, he can either rejoin the community or reject it once more.
    At the end of
Casablanca
, Rick has rejoined the community. Having been dragged into the trouble involving Viktor Lazlo and his wife (Rick’s former lover), Rick resolves matters and walks off with his new friend, Louis, to get involved in

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