Wednesday, February 06, 2008
What I learned about writing while watching the Super Bowl
I live in Ohio in the middle of farm country, far removed from Ground Zero where the battle of the gridiron was fought. I don't know anyone from New York and I've only met one couple from Boston when I was at a convention in Denver. Most everyone here in my neck of the woods (ever heard that phrase before?) is in the same boat. Our beloved Bengals had a losing season. Sigh. We're used to that. The Cleveland Browns did well, but they didn't make the play-offs. So after Pittsburg got trounced, (thank goodness--we root for any team that plays Pittsburg) we had no vested interest in the game.
Yet still, emotions ran high. We had our favorites. You gotta wonder why do we even care? I've been thinking about that and it occurred to me that in football, just as in writing, it's all about the characters.
Whether based on emotionalism or personal preference, most people will always root for the underdog. I know I do. It's human nature to root for the little guy. It this case the little guy was, oddly enough, the New York Giants. Six games down on the perfect Patriots, they went into the game with something to prove.
That's how it is with writing. Our characters must have something to prove. They must face insurmountable odds to reach their goals. Things can't come easily to our characters or the reader is going to feel cheated. It must look like their dreams could shatter on every page. Readers want a champion, but they don't want a champion with an I'll-kill-anyone-who-gets-in-my-way attitude. Remember he's the underdog.
Underdog isn't the same as lapdog. Our hero must be strong, honest, courageous, and capable of not taking himself too seriously. We don't want a hero who achieves his goals by running over his opposition. He must have a human side. I think that's why we tend to root for the underdog. We can empathize with him. He has displayed his weakness, but also shown he has the fortitude to overcome the obstacles we put in his way.
That's what makes a hero we can fall in love with. I think too many writers, especially romance writers, spend too much time making their heros gorgeous and bigger than life. I'm not suggesting your hero must be the geek with nothing interesting to say. We have to care about him, remember? I think more effort should be made to make me care about this guy than worry about how thick his hair is and how his green eyes snap indignantly at the slightest provocation.
Give us characters we can root for. Characters we'll love as much as the heroines they sweep off their feet. A character like Eli Manning: reserved, strong, the unsung little brother with his own Goliath to face. Or maybe like Tom Brady: the golden boy who must come back after having his hopes and dreams dashed.
Talk about drama.