Kalayna Price had me at “hello.” Seriously, the opening of the Alex Craft series is like a textbook example of how to hook readers right out of the gate. Check it:
The first time I encountered Death, I hurled my mother’s medical chart at him. As far as impressions went, I blew it, but I was five a tthe time, so he eventually forgave me. Some days I wished he hadn’t—particularly when we crossed paths on the job. — from GRAVE WITCH
Since then she’s continued to impress me with her voice, her characters and, yes, her wicked streak. I hope you’ll enjoy her guest blog and that you’ll leave a comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of one of her books. The latest, GRAVE MEMORY, will release on Tuesday, July 3rd!
Okay, but it’s going to cost you.
In life most of us avoid conflict. We don’t necessarily take the easy path, but we’d rather avoid the old Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” The smoother ride is preferred.
In fiction, the opposite is true.
Characters are put through the wringer and given two bad paths to choose from. Why? Not because the writers are evil overloads who wish to torture their unsuspecting characters, but because conflict creates interest and forces character growth. A story in which everything went well for the character and around each turn something even better happened would be like sitting down and tackling an entire triple chocolate cheesecake. The first couple bites might be decadent, but it would get sickening fast. No fun.
So we make it hard for our characters. We give them no good place to turn. We make every action count and each one come at a cost. This cost may be major or minor and might be physical or emotional, but it has to hold a proportional amount of weight in comparison with what is at stake. It also has to affect to story, not just be thrown in there to create false conflict. If the cost is easily sidestepped or has no bearing on the story, it isn’t good conflict, and the reader probably won’t care.
How do you find this cost? Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen in the situation you are dealing with (or make a list of worse-case scenarios) and then find a compelling reason why the character has no other choice but take that route. Note the words “compelling” and “no other choice.” If the reader is sitting in their seat thinking, “Why didn’t the character just . . . “ the writer hasn’t done their job well and the suspension of belief is broken.
Of course, all these hard choices and agonizing decisions pay off in the end. They force the character grow so that in the final challenge, they can succeed—at least partially. Depending on your genre, boy might get girl, the killer found, the bad guy foiled, and/or the world saved. For now.
Hey, we all like our cake at the end, right?