This is from a paper I wrote for my Masters Degree in English. The assignment was to use other books and show what I could take from other writers in my style. I wanted to share it with you.
In The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, the author puts many obstacles in the way of the characters. There is no one main protagonist. Each family member has their own time to reveal their feelings and motivations as well as their goals. In this book, Alfred is aging and experiencing Parkinson’s and dementia. He looks back over his life and what all he had wanted to do and how life dealt him a bad hand. Now his obstacles are physical and mental compared to those his family once occupied in preventing him from achieving everything he desired. Everything to him becomes an obstacle. His own bodily functions become obstacles. In one scene, the author creates a scene that is so sad yet so funny. Alfred wakes up to his body wanting to relieve itself in the bed. He fights it, but then begins to hallucinate:
A small animal, a mouse, scurried in the layered shadows at the food of Enid’s bed. For a moment it seemed to Alfred that the whole floor consisted of scurrying corpuscles. Then the mise resolved themselves into a single more forward mouse, horrible mouse, squishable pellets of excreta, habits of gnawing, heedless peeings —
“Asshole, asshole!! The visitor taunted, stepping from the darkness into a bedside dusk.
With dismay Alfred recognize the visitor. First he saw the dropping’s slumped outline and then he caught a whiff of bacterial decay. This was not a mouse. This was a turd. (281-282)
The author puts everyday events of going to the bathroom as an obstacle to the character. He is not developing forward anymore. He is returning to his infancy where he cannot control his own body. He is the decline of all those still moving forward. Here the author uses something simple to show how hard it is for Alfred to deal with what is going inside of him as the reader can see how it impacts the other characters through their viewpoints. This is achieved by going into his mind and seeing how the situation impacts him.
For me, I can go into the character’s mind and reveal how situations impact them. I can also put everyday problems in the way to cause tension. This can be easy with one character, Ann, who likes to spin the littlest thing to make herself look better.
In Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, the whole plot is full of obstacles. The author creates scenes that seem impossible to get out of. Langdon is called in to consult on a murder only because his name was left at the scene of the crime. He is caught within a museum with no apparent way out: “Then his fingers brushed something unexpected. Small and hard. Pinching the tiny object between his fingers, Langdon pulled it out and stared in astonishment.” (65) He cannot simply just waltz out of the building. He is being tracked, and the authorities will know where he is at all times. The author forces the characters to think and act with physical obstacles in front of them. This causes tension to rise as the reader is caught with them.
In my work, I can put physical obstacles in the way of my characters to force them down specific roads, both literal and figuratively. This can cause the characters to think about certain scenes of the past.
In Rebecca Wells’ Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, the obstacles occur throughout the book as the past is revealed in order to understand the present. One of the best examples of this is the beginning of chapter one: “Tap-dancing child abuser. That’s what the Sunday New York Times from March 8, 1993, had called Vivi.” (1) Accusations are the introduction and done in a very public manner. This obstacle is the one to force the plot to start moving and will be the backbone of all character development within the story. The author is taking an outsider’s perception to force the family to stop and look at itself truthfully.
In my story, I can use an outsider to push my characters and create the necessary tension for the climax of the story.
In writing difficult scenes, I think every author has to find their own methods. In a previous story, I had to become the sadistic murder in my mind. I quickly discovered that I had to be alone. My temper was short and I was not pleasant to be around. In the current piece, I find myself crying often. Because of that, I have to make sure I’m alone and strong enough to get through the scene. The current story has scenes that are very real to me as a person and cuts the injury open. The act of cleansing it can be painful even when it is in a creative writing format.
An emotional scene is found within Rebecca Wells’ book. Vivi receives a ring from her father, but her mother sees it as payment for an immoral act. When she takes the ring from her daughter, her husband then forces her to give it back: ““I said, give the girl the goddamn ring, you pathetic Catholic idiot!”…Then Taylor Abbott slapped his wife once, hard, across the face.” (189) The entire scene is tense and brings tears to my eyes. The author does not just tell the reader what happened. She invites the reader in and makes the reader one of the Ya-Yas in bed with Vivi trying to comfort and protect her. The injustice of it all is very apparent and causes the reader to want to jump in and help the young teenager.
For my writing, I can create a scene where the reader is a character and are vested in the story itself. By writing a scene that is vivid and real, the reader will feel as though they have stepped within its pages. I have several more scenes coming up that go back in time and can be written in such a way: where the mother gets a new step-father that is a drunkard and touches too much as well as when the mother decides to leave home.
Brown, Dan. The DaVinci Code. First Anchor, 2003.
Franzen, Jonathan. The Corrections. Picador, 2001.
Wells, Rebecca. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Harper-Collins, 2004.