One of the pieces of writing advice I come across all the time, when I’m reading up on my craft, is that when you (the writer) are stuck, think of the worst thing that can happen to your character and then write that.
Okay, so I can see where that little gem of wisdom is coming from. Everyone wants to write a compelling book, and one of the best ways to keep that sort of excitement up is to beat your hero down. Nobody is going to read a story about someone for whom everything goes perfectly right all the time. Still, that sort of unrelenting negativity is too much for me. I can’t stay interested in a story where the main character is being thwarted on literally every page. I read fiction to get away from real life, not immerse myself in a different version of it.
Take Dead Man by Domino Finn. I believe I mentioned this one before, but it left an impression. I rather liked the main character, Cisco. He was clever, curious, and determined to figure out why the heck happened to end with him missing years of his own life to wake up in a dumpster being shot at. Then, once he puts it all together in a way that makes some kind of sense, he is out for revenge.
I really liked this guy. I sympathized and rooted for him the whole way through, but it took me longer to read this book than it probably should have for its length. One of the first things he does, you see, is look up an old friend of his. A voodoo priestess he used to
hang out with. She could maybe point him in the right direction, he hopes, only to find her freshly murdered corpse locked in a shed. Which is then set on fire from the outside. Then when he escapes the shed, he runs smack into a monster spider creature and has to fight that, in his old friend’s house. Which then catches fire, because of course, it does.
The only upside here is that he can’t actually be framed for the murder and put on the Most Wanted list because he is officially dead. The story goes on to put him in contact with his once best friend (a cop) who is maybe trustworthy, find out that everyone he once knew and trusted is either dead or terrified of him, and there are several different shady underground groups who want him dead for real. And some powerful demon gods and what have you are involved and it goes on like that. He can’t relax long enough to sleep, let alone eat or heal until the book wraps up with a promise for sequels.
It was a good book, I don’t want you to get the impression it wasn’t. Well written, and I genuinely felt for Cisco. He has more than enough reason to get very, very angry at whoever did this to him— I won’t spoil it, but it goes way past just taking a few years of his life away in a horrifying manner, but that alone would be enough I’d say. Mr. Finn did a great job of thinking up some really awful stuff for Cisco to deal with, and it’s all good stuff. Well, it’s really bad stuff, but you know what I mean.
But it’s too much stuff. I can’t take a breath between horrible revelations or bad guys getting the drop on him. He ends the book alone, with very nearly everyone on the planet gunning for him. It’s the urban fantasy version of the old country song joke. Read it backward and he gets his stuff back, his friends back, his girl back, his job… There’s definitely a place for that sort of book in the world, and if you’re into it, I can definitely recommend Dead Man. I haven’t read the sequel (yet. I might pick it up later,) but I’m sure it’s another exhausting, action-filled romp through the magical underbelly of Miami. (There’s a pretty hilarious part where he decides he somewhat desperately needs a shower and a shave, so he breaks into what he thinks is the empty Versace mansion, only to find out that while he was ‘away’ it was turned into a hotel. Whoops!)
Me? I prefer my world-saving heroes to have at least enough time to take a nap in relative safety, and a few allies to watch their back. Otherwise, I get exhausted reading about the constant stream of fighting— the neverending barrage of battles both physical and emotional that the hero has to fight through to come out the other side of the book alive. I don’t say intact because I really don’t think they are if they’re entirely alone int he world. What sort of ally is only an ally when things look good for the hero? Not much of one, that’s for sure.
Even classic loner Batman always knows that he has Alfred keeping an eye on things back in the ol’ Batcave, after all. (Yeah, yeah, we can have the geek fight about Superman and Wonder Woman and team-ups in a different post.)