In an earlier post I mentioned the need to express triumph and satisfaction in a story’s ending phase. When the heroic character (usually the protagonist) achieves a major goal, we need to provide a feeling of triumph that overcame seemingly impossible odds. Because of this achievement, readers want this character to be recognized and rewarded.
In this tip, I would like to go into more detail about the recognition aspect.
In many stories, the protagonist has to break away from the crowd and act alone, which makes his or her sacrifice, suffering, and courage all the more compelling, and that, in turn, magnifies the reader’s emotional need to properly reward the character.
Unfortunately, when the hero takes the lonely road to achieve the goal, it is possible, even probable, that no one will know what the hero did to save everyone.
And it seems self-serving for the hero to come home and blow his own horn about his achievements.
This is why authors need to make sure someone significant in the story, especially a character with higher standing than the protagonist, recognizes the protagonist’s courage and sacrifice in a direct manner.
For example, I was reviewing an early draft of Precisely Terminated by my daughter, Amanda L. Davis. In this amazing story, the heroine, Monica, goes through incredible suffering and employs tremendous courage to save the lives of millions of people. Yet, because she did it alone, at the end of the story, only one other person knew what she did, and no one thanked her.
Because of this lack of recognition, I felt empty and unfulfilled. I told Amanda she needed to add at least a word of thanks from someone who mattered to Monica. So she went to work and came up with this:
She looked again at Simon. With his hands stuffed in his pockets, he gazed back at her, tears trickling from both eyes. Exhaling heavily, he shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” Her voice rose barely above a whisper. “For what?”
He shuffled across the bridge, knelt in front of her, and looked into her eyes. “For everything. I have mistreated you, manipulated you, and ordered you around like my own slave. I should be shouting your praises from the rooftops.” He took one of her bandaged hands and kissed her fingertips. “You, my dear, are a heroine, the savior of all Cillineese. You have given us hope. We see now that the Nobles’ hold is vulnerable. You have loosened its grip of terror. Now all we need to do is find a way to strip their fingers away from our necks for good.”
When I read this, I pumped a fist and whispered, “Yes!”
You see, such recognition channels a reader’s emotions into the story. Readers know instinctively that good deeds should be rewarded, and when one significant character delivers that reward, even through simple verbal recognition, readers feel that their own desires to thank the character have been fulfilled.
This need is beautifully illustrated in the film Return of the King. The four hobbits have endured horrific suffering and achieved world-saving goals, but until this point in the film, their sacrifices have not been properly recognized:
How many viewers pumped a fist and whispered, “Yes!” when they saw this scene? I was among them.
It is true that real heroes sometimes don’t receive the recognition they deserve, and you might want to write about a lonely hero who suffers and sacrifices without reward. Such a story can be compelling, and the lack of hero recognition can provoke strong emotions in readers. Yet, I would urge authors to reward the character in some way. Public recognition might be inappropriate, but at least show that the hero has gained recognition and reward from above, maybe through a beam of light from heaven or a scene of resurrected glory.
For example, in the film Les Miserables, very few people knew about the heroic sacrifices made by Jean Valjean, and he died without public recognition. Yet, the screen writers knew they had to reward him for the sake of the viewers.
Here is the final scene. The short-haired woman who comforts the dying hero is, herself, already dead, and the barricade gathering represents a joyous celebration in heaven.
I am sure there were very few dry eyes among viewers who suffered through the story with the hero.
Any questions or comments? Please post them.
Categories: Writing Tips