“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
The above words were penned by Thomas Paine, and even though Mr. Paine was addressing the American colonists, his words hold true for those of us who write fiction as well.
Recently, my critique partner confessed that she felt the hero of my current WIP was “too Beta”. As the words left her mouth, I could almost visualize her flinching (we were talking on the phone at the time), as though afraid her opinion would make me mad, or worse, would hurt my feelings.
If anything, a sense of relief flooded through me. If she’d said she hated my heroine or there was no plot, I’d have to perform major surgery. Beta, I could fix.
It took a day of wallowing in self-pity before I worked up the courage to read through my synopsis and the completed first three chapters. Dammit, she was right! My hero was…well…a wuss.
Only a wuss would let some jerk diss his lady and get away without losing teeth or other, even more important body parts. Only a wuss would allow his lady-love imperil herself without racing to the rescue. Only a wuss-well, you get the idea.
Several more days went by with me chewing on the issue like a dog with a very old bone before I figured out what I could do to Alphabetize, if you will, my hero. But how do you “de-wussify” a hero? How do you turn a nice guy, who is the definition of warm-fuzzy into an arrogant, cocky horse’s hind-end who skates that thin, ephemeral line between good and bad?
CP told me that my heroine is so strong she didn’t need my hero. Therefore, I had no story. When you have a heroine who’s so very strong that she appears invincible, you’ve got to give her a guy who’s big enough, bad enough and man enough to go toe to toe with her. I had to come up with a way to make her need him. Not only that, but I had to make her just seethe with resentment over needing him. That, my children, is conflict.
Thankfully, only a few changes were needed to transform my hero.
Now, when the bad guy makes a nasty comment about the heroine, my hero decks him. When the heroine declares she doesn’t need him, my hero tells her too bad, she’s stuck with him. For her own good, he must stand by, like Dudley Doowright, and be ready to save the day.
I’ll be forever grateful for my CP having the guts and honesty to tell me the unvarnished truth when she did. She could have kept her mouth shut. I could have written the entire novel and been rejected by every editor and agent in the western hemisphere with the dreaded words “good luck submitting your work elsewhere”. As we all know, this translates as “don’t quit your day job.”
So, for you writers, do your characters and plots come with conflict built-in? Or do you go through the types of gyrations I went through before you get it right?
Readers, which type of hero are you most drawn to, the tough-as-nails Alpha, or the polished, civilized Beta man? Why?