Thursday, October 4, 2012

Compounded Misery

I am from the West Coast.

Particularly from a part of the West Coast where there are no real bugs.

I didn't think that was how it was when I was growing up. I was well aware of the mosquitoes and the horse flies and the bluebottle flies and the crickets and any number of other unpleasant exoskeleton-ed creatures with too many legs.

After coming to the Midwest for college, I have learned (among other important things like how to cook a full meal in the microwave and the intricacies of ancient Greek grammar) that the bugs in my home state are sort of wimpy, rather pathetic, harmless little things. In other words, not real bugs.

Here, the bugs are a warrior race of Titans.

My friends had to inform me that the solution to having them fly into your mouth while you walk is to close your mouth.

I felt like a genius.

However, I'd never thought much about bugs before, but considering the annoyance of bugs made me think of all the little inconveiniences that are part of the fabric of any novel and part of the construction of any truly miserable hero.

Interstingly, heroes rarely seem to deal with bugs.

Unless they are huge spiders, of course.

Or in the Lord of the Rings.

"What do they eat when they can't get Hobbit?"

More often they seem to be tortured with cold.

While, bugs and cold are not disasters, calamities, or great plot developments (unless the spider's talk or the cold takes the form of a near fatal avalanche that kills our hero's only source of guidance and leaves our hero limping through the snow) they are annoying and inconvenient and depressing. While annoying and inconvenient and depressing don't move the plot, they make it that much harder for the character to make the right decision, that much more likely that the character will fail.

The result of big disasters, little disasters, medium sized disasters, a calamity or two, and a bunch of little inconveniences is, as Donald Maass, in his Writing the Breakout Novel, called it, "compounded misery."

I heart misery. My characters definitely need more misery in their lives.

I think I am going to go add some bugs.


  1. Yay for making our characters miserable. :D

    I...ahem...deleted the only bug I had in my WiP. Perhaps I should reinstate it with a few friends.

  2. Hooray for the west coast! (I hail from that direction as well) And hooray for the never-fails-to-be-entertaining posts on your blog! :)

  3. I grew up in the Midwest amongst many a bug, but now live on the West Coast and love the bug-less-ness. I do miss the cool bugs like preying mantis and cicadas, though. Great reminder that it's good to torture your characters. The more the better. Mosquito bites on top of spider bites with a little frostbite thrown in ought to do wonders for a Mary Sue.

  4. I hate bugs! So much that I don't have any my WIP. I just can't bring myself to adding any. A great post!