Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Rock Tumbler

Out of the mouths of babes: I had a student once, years ago, who said something I've never forgotten. She'd had a hard life, and at fifteen, it showed in the smear of bright lipstick and hard, glittering eyes. It was also my first year of teaching, and my bag of tricks slumped a little on the empty side. In one of my conversations with her (in which I tried in vain to convince her to be kinder to her classmates), she said, "I'm a bitch. That's who I am. And if they don't like it, they don't have to talk to me."

My views on humans: I don't remember what I said, but I've remembered that line because it sums up the psyche of too many individuals I've met over the years -- thus instigating the following emotions regarding my view of the human race: we don't pop out our mamas perfect. We're each on our personal hero journey, and we're each in our own personal rock tumblers, buffing off the sharp edges. In fact, and I believe this with all of my soul, our most unique features can only be revealed once we've gone through the process -- and yes, it's humbling, and yes, it's painful, and yes, it's necessary.

Building character: You know where I'm going with this. If you haven't examined your heroine, if you haven't pushed her to the limit, put her feet to the fire, honed her character with her experiences, then you don't have a real, breathing protagonist. You have a two dimensional cardboard cut out. But it's more than just forcing your hero to face crisis after crisis. It's about the reaction, the growth, the tenacity, the perseverance, the willingness to get back up after he's taken a nose dive.

Of course, all of this rumination was sparked by Anthony & Moonrat. If you haven't read Anthony's thoughts on the perfect YA heroine, check it out.

What's the worst thing you've put a protagonist through? Did you do it to further the plot? or to further her growth as a person? And does it matter? Is plot or characterization more important or can a decision even be made between the two?


  1. I love the life is a rock tumbler analogy. It's so true.

    Worst thing that happens to my protagonist? He loses his twin brother. It was originally his best friend, but after going to Donald Maass's class, I changed it to his twin. It does add more impact to the story, and I really had a hard time doing it to my character, but I feel it made his motivations stronger in the end, and his reaction much more justified.

  2. I've done some pretty bad things to my protagonists, but a addicting one to drugs while she was struggling with PTSD ranks right up there with being a big meanie.

  3. Writing advice aside, this post is brilliant. It really gives me something to think about.

    Thank you!


Join the conversation, add insight, or disagree with us! We welcome your thoughts.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.