Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Suffrage of your Characters

This morning my husband and I sat and watched an old Bonanza show. This one starred Ricardo Montalbon. He played an outcast Indian--a son of a chief. He is outcast because he married an Indian maiden from another tribe played by Madlyn Rhue. This woman spent 3 years with a white family and learned to read the Bible.
Madlyn Rhye as Hatoya

In the opening, Ben Cartwright is ambushed by an Indian, and stabbed. Just before the Indian can finish him off, Matsou (Montalban), stops him. He talks his blood-lusting white man hating brother to leave him. After which he takes Ben to his tee-pee and his wife cares for him. Matsou is convoluted over his being so soft about a white man, but he is, after all on Cartwright land.

His brother comes along and asks what happened to the white man. Matsou lies, tells him he hid the body and took his horse. His brother wants to check his tee-pee but Matsou won't allow it. His brother, Lagos, says they are about to have a war party against the people of the land. Not great news, but Matsou isn't half as worried about that as he is about the white man he saved. Eventually Ben becomes well enough, he is grateful and offers Matsou some land to farm. His wife is happy, and wants him to try to farm. Matsou is still in two minds about it, but he and she both pray about it--in their separate ways and he softens and accepts. They build a home, he cuts his hair (which in reality he would not do--a lot of things wrong with what the Indians believed in and did, but I'm not going to harp on this). His wife is pregnant and they are happy about this, but he hates that he has become a farmer eating bread and using forks and knifes and sits at a table--yadayada.

In the meantime, an Indian hater, Ike Daggert, is really up in arms about these two Indians adjacent to his land. He claims if he ever sees either of them he'll kill them. Well, Matsou's brother comes to tell him that the tribe is about to attack. If he isn't going to attend this like a good son of a chief, then he should get the hell out of the way. Matsou, of course, goes to warn the Cartwrights, and then, like a good neighbor--but a foolish one--goes to warn Daggert. At the same time he comes to the house, Daggert hears him, comes out to shoot him. But also, Matsou's brother has come, entered through an open window, kills Daggert's wife, and starts the place on fire. Seeing this, too late, Daggert shoots and kills Lagos.

Daggert's wife is buried, everyone is gathered at the funeral, including Matsou and his wife, Hatoya. Daggert is out-raged about this, and seeing Hatoya praying further incites him. He shoots Hatoya, after breaking away from a scuffle. Matsou is devastated, and goes a little crazy.

Next scene: Daggert barely makes it to the Cartwright home, falls and it is revealed he's been cut up in a way to make him suffer before he dies. This is Matsou's doing, of course. After the man dies, Ben tries to go to Matsou to talk to him. Matsou hits him, ties him up spread-eagle with rawhide. Another slow torture. As Ben is suffering Matsou is trying to enjoy it, but seems he can't do so--can't even look at Ben. And Ben refuses to cry out throughout this ordeal. Matsou knows he is a failure as an Indian as well as a white man.

Just when it seems Ben is at his last moments, he begins to pray--something his wife has done in the past. He tells Ben to stop, but he won't. At this breaking point, Matsou cuts Ben loose. (I wanted to see him offer him water, but he didn't--another problem with the show). They make peace. Matsou becomes chief of his people. A somewhat happy ending.

I wrote out the basic plot here--aside from some of the basic mistakes of the piece, the suffering of each character was there--it was a good lesson in writing the basic plot crises: Matsou losing his wife who he loved so dearly he didn't care that he was banished from his tribe, and then became a farmer to keep her happy--this was his ultimate devastation. It wasn't lost on me that Daggert lost his wife, but you didn't care about him because he was so hateful. The volatile act happened--Daggert shooting Matsou's wife saying, "An Eye for and eye!"--was the the crisis point in the story.

I knew while watching all the drama on this show that something bad was going to happen, and it made me edgy--especially with the Indian hater making it clear he would kill any Indian that came on his property. I couldn't have guessed that his beautiful wife, who was with child, would be shot in cold blood. The writer had found the worst thing that he could do to his character, Matsou, and did it. Showed him going through a bit of madness over his wife's senseless murder. Matsou suffered until he could suffer no more injustice and slight to his character. His wife's death drove him over the edge. Good job by the writer, I say!

My dilemma in my own writing:

While working on a WIP, I consider what would be the worse thing that could happen to my main character(s). This is your job as a writer. You need to have people care about these characters, and then you do something that jars them emotionally. I've mentioned that I am currently working on Dhampire Legacy, something already written a million years ago by me, dug out and I'm breathing new life into it. I was following the main plot--as written--where I have my detective's daughter abducted by vampires. Whether or not I would follow what happened next as written, I was in two minds about. I wanted Detective Vladislav to save his daughter from being bitten and then turned. In the original I'd had him come too late, and she does become a vampire, however he, being a dhampire has sway over her similar to the vampire who bit her. Looking over the chapters on this, I wasn't sure that's what I wanted at all. But now, after watching this episode of Bonanza I'm hitting my head saying, Wull, duh!

I see that the easy way out is not the way to go. The scene that is written will stand, but be rewritten as needed. I'm finding that there wasn't too much wrong with it plot-wise, it just became too long-winded, and needs help in certain areas, but the basic plot was good.

Although my beginning didn't start until the third chapter, this was one of the bigger problems. A few other minor things I changed too. Bringing in a character who sheds light on things so that my detective will begin to question his own dismissal of who/what he is (he is of Gypsy birth--which I will probably hit on in more detail in a future post). So, of course, I've been cutting here and re-positioning a chapter there. My other main characters Phil and Herb play off each other like a ping-pong match, and I love the interplay of their personalities in this. Where as Jan is so serious, as a contrast, and I hope to give him a boot in the pants at some point. And his world is falling down around his ears as we speak with the hint of vampires in the disappearances and murders that now are beginning to pile up. His wife is dead (prior to the book's opening), and Lucy, his daughter is all he's got. And I don't need to add he is overly protective of her--but that would only make sense. Being a teenager, even as innocent of the world as she is, she won't be able to obey her detective father, and will get herself into trouble, big-time. This is what I wanted to happen to bring Jan to his knees, drop-kicking him like a ball, then build him back up, making him accept his birthright.

Have any of you had trouble figuring out what to do to make your MC suffer? I watch a lot of older shows that were written really well for TV. This one had problems, but like I said, the main idea was not lost on me. It helped me come to a decision, opened my eyes a bit, and I'm going ahead with the WIP as written, for the most part. Well, I'd better get to it!

Hope you've had a great weekend. See you next week some time!


  1. It's all about suffering...all that thinking we writers do.

    1. "Ohhhh, my poor brain. I think it will explode if I don't get this down!" you mean like that, right, Shelly?

  2. I took the idea of the worse case scenario playing out... and had my main characters among the witnesses of that.

    1. Witnessing something horrific, no doubt. Good idea, William!


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