Enter the Sucker Punch!

I wrote a fight (no relation to this cinematic travesty). It was a good fight; a highly stylised action sequence, gorgeously executed in prose, our protagonist cutting through swathes of cookie cutter henchmen with the grace of Summer Glau and the efficiency of Germans.

It was masterful. It was epic.It was fraking boring.

The problem with writing any scene is making it interesting enough for the reader to get through, while still advancing the plot, fleshing out characters, or embellishing on the world they’re in. If everything is executed perfectly with no real challenge, then why read it? A plot to kill a CEO that goes off without a hitch, the date that goes off like clockwork, or a deer that births a calf without drama, might as well be written like that. One sentence, done. No wasted space, no wasting the readers’ time, on to the next bit.

So when I find myself writing elaborate snooze worthy scenes, no matter what the situation, I sucker punch the character. I deliberately go for their weak spot, whether it’s blowing out a kneecap on a dancer during the winter Olympics or sabotaging delicate trade talks with an ill timed stripper in a room full of religious fanatics, it’s worth finding out how the character deals with it (even if the scene never makes it into the final work). Because it’s how the protagonist deals with challenges that we gain insight into his or her character and grow to like or loathe them.

One of the biggest obstacles to interesting writing is the inability of the author to provide a reason to engage with the characters, or to give a reason to root for him or her. Doing horrible (or challenging) things to them, making them work harder and smarter to achieve something, letting them face difficult situations and let them work their way out, not only builds a more interesting narrative, but also your skill as a writer. Don’t just send in the eagles to save the day. Write your way into cramped spaces, then write your way out.

Like Kurt Vonnegut said it:

“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

I say; sucker punch them and watch them get back up (or not).

Do you agree?

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