The Problem With Contentment

I ran up against an interesting problem today while I was working on the space opera.  Given the trouble we ran into on Star Trek: The Next Generation I should have seen it coming, but it really hit home today.  Contented characters aren’t very interesting and the problems that afflict them are usually of the emotional variety and that’s hard to dramatize.

I’ve got two view point characters in this book (I touched on the problems that may cause in my last post) but today a new issue raised its ugly head.  My hero is lower class, put down.  He has “the-I-wants” really badly.  She’s The Infanta of the Solar League.  Yes, she has the pressure placed on her by her father and the looming knowledge she’s going to have to rule this messy empire, but that’s a problem for the future.  She’s not poor, she’s not disparaged she doesn’t have anything obvious against which to strive.

On Trek this manifested one day during a story meeting where we were trying to “break” a story that revolved around Troi.  Our boss, Ira, was fulminating, cheerleading, trying to get the rest of us engaged, and he tapped a colored pen against the white board and asked, “So, what does Troi want?”  We stared at him, and he suddenly got this funny expression, threw the pen across the room, and declared.  “Fuck, I don’t know what she wants.  She doesn’t want anything because she doesn’t need anything.”

And that’s my current dilemma.  So I’ve got to find something that can test my heroine and place pressure on her that isn’t just an arbitrary problem that I’ve throw in to address this problem.  What ever I come up with needs to be integral to the plot.  It has to have real meat, and real stakes associated with it, and as I sit at my computer at 10:30 at night I have no fucking clue what that’s going to be.

 

9 Responses to The Problem With Contentment

  • Georgino Ludwig says:

    Not knowing any specifics about the space opera I eagerly await the chance to read, I offer this suggestion. (Which you may have already thought of). You say it’s a problem of I want, maybe the problem isn’t that she wants something so much as she doesn’t want something. Maybe it’s an avoidance issue. Just because you are born royalty doesn’t mean you are a ruler.

    I hope my brief comment helps.

  • Eric Senabre says:

    I have already encountered problems of that kind. These characters could be as boring in books or movies or TV shows as they are in real life ! The only advantage I see in getting older, is that you (usually) happen to know more people. There’s often someone you can base your character on. But as for contented characters, pfff… I’m forty and I’m french : NO-ONE is contented in my generation ! I’d be in trouble too 🙂

  • Spot on with Troi. Every plot around her seemed so manufactured: the birth of insta-kid, having her powers suppressed… ugh. She never really materialized as a character for me. At best, she was an emotional tourist.

    Riker was right on target when he called her aristocratic.

  • Steven Lopata says:

    A character does not have to NEED something to have wants. Your empress-to-be can want the love (or lust) of someone way out of her class. She can desire travel to a restricted area for good reasons. She may just feel unused and unwanted because her schedule is all appearances at hospital openings and balls, not something she considers useful. Those were the first three things that came to mind.

  • C K says:

    Whether or not an obstacle is arbitrary is largely subjective. The obstacles can be broken into two categories: (1) problems unique to a woman in her position, and (2) obstacles which may impact anyone. An arbitrary obstacle is more likely to be found in the second category.

    Category 1 would include risk of assassination and fear of failure at her appointed role. I put the latter in the first category even though anyone can experience fear of failure. Hers is unique because failure on her part may jeopardize a planet. Category 2 would include selfishness, anxiety, daddy issues (will he be proud of me?), and medical afflictions.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Thanks all for your suggestions and insights. She knows how much pressure is on her to succeed at the academy so I’m playing that. She’s starting to realize how hard headed and cold blooded she will have to be regarding her sisters, others, etc. I just feel like I can’t overplay these issues. When somebody is poor and low born and proud and bitter there’s a lot to play with. In her case her those first two are gone so it’s all emotional. She is learning to have confidence in her decisions, etc.

    I think the reason I love being a writer is because every book and script offers new problems and requires new skills to solve those problems. And I’m also insecure about my abilities like almost all writers. 🙂

  • wolflahti says:

    My characters always know what they want, but they don’t always know what that is. Example: In an author/character dialogue, I asked Melina what she wanted, and she replied, “I want to go home.”

    Me: “What does home mean to you?”

    Melina: “I don’t know! Don’t you think if I knew that I would be there by now?!”

    Not helpful.

  • JaniceG says:

    Aside from the other good suggestions, there’s also soul-searching about whether she’d be in her position or be as good at whatever she does if she hadn’t been born to privilege, which encounters with the other character would exacerbate

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      That’s a good approach, Janice. And after a conversation with auntie Sage today I think I see a place in her course work where she can have real problems with the course work, and really give her some self-doubt about her ability to be a soldier.

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