Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph

Yes, I have an addiction to alliteration. Se La Vi. Anyway, I’m at a point in the Third Book in the Dairyland Murders series, Cop Incognito, where plot points are really starting to collide.  In my head, it’s kind of like drawing a tree backwards. The reader gets to see the tips of the branches first, and slowly those branches get thicker and extend downward until they come to the trunk. There everything seems to come together until you go underground and follow the roots, which just branch out all over again. A series needs roots, hidden tendrils from which to draw upon for sustenance and future material. Tired of tree metaphors yet? OK, then. Let’s move on.

Generally speaking, works of literary fiction should take the reader on an emotional journey. During this journey, important things need to take place. The first is that the reader needs to make a connection to the main characters. They need to feel something, be it affinity, empathy, repulsion, what have you. Making those connections is crucial in maintaining the reader’s interest in what will happen to those characters further into the story.

The second step in the journey is the validity of the story itself. Being that I am referring to fiction, some might question how relevant that really is, but it is extremely important. No matter how far from actual reality a story is, even if it takes place on another planet or an alternate time line, the reader has to believe the characters are really experiencing their world on their terms. Any disconnect between the two requires a re-write one way or the other.

After those two points are established, the fun begins. The characters need to overcome some sort of change in their lives. Perhaps they have goals that have unforeseen obstacles in the way. Maybe their way of life is drastically changing beyond their control. These are the Trials.

A catalyst of discomfort needs to be injected into the story to force reactions and consequences. I call it, “making them squirm.” How will the characters react to their catalysts? Is the outcome predictable? Is it surprising? To what lengths will a certain character go to achieve their goal? Will they succeed, or even survive? How have past indiscretions or decisions effected what is going on with the characters in their present? These are the Tribulations.

When characters are first presented to a reader, they are not always what they seem, nor must they necessarily remain constant in their role throughout the story. It’s fine  for characters to switch roles from antagonist to protagonist and vise-versa, so long as it makes sense to the story. That’s what’s critical. Have fun with your characters, but don’t toss them into completely ridiculous scenarios that have no bearing to their reality. Authors are bound by the restrictions of the environments they have created in order to maintain that level of believability. No matter what the author does, the reader has to buy what they are selling.

And no matter what, a reader needs something that resembles a close. Even if not everything is revealed at the end, certain factors have to be resolved. That’s the Triumph, but I use that word very liberally. Who triumphs may not be whom the reader is hoping for, at least not right away. Don’t break the reader’s heart, especially in a series, and give them nothing to look forward to. There’s nothing wrong with ending on a cliff-hanger, but it’s important to tie some Trials up. Some sort of sense of stability has to be established, even if it’s just for a little while. You can end a book with the calm before the storm, just make it a storm you’re reader feels compelled to ride through with your characters. Save pointless endeavors with no happy ending for real life. I like to keep my guilty pleasures guilty and pleasurable.


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