Monday, April 15, 2013

Doing Bad Things to Characters (April Theme) by Bob Krech

I once heard prolific middle-grade author Bruce Coville speak during a school visit. I think he's a very talented writer and a very funny guy. He told the audience that when he writes a book he realizes that the book is in competition for a reader's attention with television, movies, youtube, phones, e-mail, texting and all sorts of other enticing ways to spend time.

Bruce Coville
In order to compete with all these choices, Coville says he might give a character, say a boy named Sam, a book and that Sam has to deliver this very important book safely to a mysterious old man on the other side of town. As soon as Sam leaves the house, a dog will chase Sam. It will begin to rain. A car will drive by splashing the book with water. Sam will take off his shirt to dry the book and the girl he likes will see him without his shirt in the rain. Her friends will laugh at him and the girl will join in. Then three bullies will be attracted by the attention and come over to see what all the fuss is about. They will see shirtless Sam and start throwing mud balls at him. One of them will take Sam's shirt and find the book. Then they will pass the book around holding it high over Sam's head. Then they will toss the book high in the air where it is suddenly snatched by a huge bird which flies toward the creek with it. Well, you get the picture. 

Coville says he tries to think of terrible obstacles that his hero must overcome in order to reach the goal. "What's the worst thing that could happen now?" he asks. He follows that up with "What could even be worse now?" The obstacles help make the book exciting and interesting and the hero must persevere (as a hero should) and overcome those obstacles in order to change in a positive way (as most heros do) and finally reach the goal. I think it's good advice and I've tried to follow it in many of the things I've written. I especially like to begin a book with an obstacle or "bad thing" right away in the first chapter. In the first chapter of Rebound, main character, Ray Wisniewski tries out for his high school basketball team with high hopes. During the tryout he is embarrassed by another player dribbling right through his legs, the coach ignores him, and at the end of the tryout he is cut. In the first chapter of Love Puppies and Corner Kicks, Andrea tries desperately to get her parents to change their minds about moving the family to Scotland for a year with no luck. Using the Coville method, in the second chapter once Andrea is in Scotland she finds out she has to live with her principal. What could be worse? Well, in Chapter 3 she throws up in his coat closet. In Chapter 4, well,  you get the picture.


  1. Love this post. Now I have a new question to ask myself when I'm plotting, or revising -- what's the worst thing that can happen now?

  2. I agree--a GREAT question to help propel the story!