Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bad Things Happen to Good People

by Susan Berger

Human beings have a built in safety net which prevents us from physically hurting ourselves. (Slap yourself really hard. Go ahead. Try it. Note that your hand will pull back at the last second to lessen the force of the blow.) I suspect that this safety net may be interfering with my ability to make bad things happen to my characters. After all the characters I create are part of me. I know I have to get past this.

Bad things happen to good people. It is my job as an author to make that true. Bad things happening are what make a story interesting. Where would Cinderella be without her wicked stepmother? Would the story of the Three Little Pigs be memorable without the wolf?

That thought led me to Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as told by A. Wolf. It’s a whole other (wonderfully funny) story when you hear it from the wolf’s point of view.

What if I tried telling my story from my other character’s point of view? (I want to do this with at least two of my other characters). What would I learn about my hero? What faults have I not exploited? What virtues?
I invite you to try this as a writing exercise.
A. Pick a scene in your story and tell it from another character’s point of view.
B. Describe the hero from the villain’s point of view
Here are some sample questions to ask the villain or secondary character:
1 Describe (your hero) physically.
2. What is their best quality?
3. What is their worst quality or what really annoys you about (your hero)?
4. Describe (your hero)’s friends.
5. What is something you know about (your hero) that you don’t think (your hero) knows about themselves?
6. What do you think (your hero) is most afraid of?
Happy writing!


  1. What an excellent idea. I'm going to try getting another character to describe my main character. I sometimes find that my main character is not quite as interesting as his/her friends or protagonists.

    I remember reading the True Story of the Three Little Pigs to my class at school once. We all loved it.

  2. This is a great idea, but for some reason I really have a hard time with it. I think it has to do with I am not sure that all of the traits will come out in the actual story once I get writing.

  3. You always have good ideas. I think creating characters is sort of like the Stanislavski method of acting. You have to know them well enough to think what they would think in each situation. By changing to another character's point of view we can see people as they would see them and notice things we might not notice otherwise.

  4. I love this idea, Susan. I have a hard time writing bad guys too. I guess I don't have a devious enough mind.

    Thanks for the exercise.


  5. Great exercise. I'll give it a try. Thanks for sharing.

  6. "I have a hard time writing bad guys too. I guess I don't have a devious enough mind."

    Cheryl - My mind swims in deviousness. Writing bad problemo.

    Lupe F.

  7. I'm going to try this tonight. Thank you for this interesting idea. I'm so guilty of that. I never want bad things to happen and it's hard because my WIP is a thriller.

  8. MemwLynne. I KNOW all the things I write for this exercise will not happen. I thought about doing this because when I did a read through of my book, I realize that my main character has a tendency to solve things, and do things, but I had not let the reader know enough about who she was inside. I knew more than the reader did. I thought If I looked at her from other character's perspectives I might find out more things I needed to let my reader in on. Lupe is right. He has no trouble writing bad guys. He also writes some of the best descriptions I ever read. But I think he needs to write a scene about Angel from Sam's point of view.
    Cheryl, Janet Ann, Suzanne and Cher'ley, than you so much for visiting and commenting

  9. Lupe also needs to get a life.

    Lupe F.

  10. Great food for thought. I'm going to try this technique out on my WIP.


We love hearing from you.