Is It A Fair Fight

Your story's scenes are going to be the specific stages by which your main character's motivations are enacted against opposition, internal or external or both. A motivation against no opposition is boring. How somebody always got everything he wanted, succeeded in every task, won every girl in sight, and never met a comeuppance, wouldn't have any drama. A chronicle of Don Juan's amorous exploits would be dull (even if porno-graphically dull) without the avenging paternal statue to send the don gibbering off to a well-deserved damnation.

Likewise, opposition without determined contrary motivation, pure victimization, is not only dull, but depressing. This is true even when, as with Oedipus and with Romeo and Juliet, the protagonist's motivation ultimately ends in tragedy or un-success. The protagonist of Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Inns-mouth" may end up becoming a part of the horror he tried to escape; Ahab may be the victim of the White Whale he so desired to destroy; but each fought all the way through the shadows into the eventual dark.

A narrative of Dracula's slaughters during the centuries before he met his determined and ultimately successful adversaries, Van Helsing and the thoroughly modern Mina, would be about as engrossing as feeding time at the zoo. Dracula is pure appetite, and his victims merely food, if there is no involving battle between predator and prey. Incidentally, Ann Rice's effective reinventions of the vampire legends (the series The Vampire Chronicles) concentrate on the aspirations of the vampires themselves as individuals, and dwell very little on the neck-biting or on their victims. The resulting stories, because the vampires are the protagonists, tend to be surprisingly upbeat in spite of the implied body count.

Bambi Meets Godzilla: a Cautionary Tale

Some of you may have seen or heard about a short satirical film called Bambi Meets Godzilla. While the opening credits are rolling, we see the terminally cute little fawn nibbling and gamboling in a leafy clearing. Then a big reptilian foot comes down and squashes him. Splat. End of movie. It's startling and funny, in a gruesome sort of way, the first time. But a whole hour of buildup, followed by that expressive splat? A whole novel, even? It would be dreadful.

Anytime you're tempted to write a pure-victim story, in which the protagonist doesn't have a chance, think about Bambi Meets Godzilla and try something else.

An Even Battle Is More Fun to Watch

Whether the ending is happy or unhappy in the traditional sense, any story needs to be founded on an effective and strongly-felt conflict, in which the opposing forces—whether people, ideas, attitudes, or a mix—are at least fairly evenly matched, enough so that the final outcome is in doubt. If anything, the forces opposing the protagonist ought to seem the stronger, to create drama and suspense. But not an utter mismatch.

Oedipus was doomed from the beginning; but he didn't know it, and he was fighting all the way. The emphasis was on the fighting, not on the doom. That's what makes the fighting, the wrestling, become engrossing narrative.

It's been said that happy families don't make good stories. Only unhappy families, or people who for whatever reason are discontented with their current circumstances, give rise to good fiction. If Scarlett O'Hara had easily forgotten Ashley and been rapturously married to an easily domesticated Rhett Butler early in the novel, if the Civil War hadn't intruded to complicate their unvarying domestic bliss, if their child had grown happily into adolescence and beyond, who would want to read Gone With theWind?

Struggle, conflict, dissatisfaction, aspiration, choice: these are the basis of effective plots.

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