I listened to an excellent interview of one of my favorite writers today, JM DeMatteis, over at Word Balloon. In it, DeMatteis brings up the fact that so many genre stories, be they sci fi space operas, comic books, sword and sorcerer fantasy, or whatever, almost always end up solving the big conflict with a big fight. No matter how bright the characters are or how smart the story, our heroes often solve their problems with violence, best intentions or not. DeMatteis wonders what sort of message we’re sending with that formula, and why does it always have to be that way? And he doesn’t really bring it up, but I have to wonder if that’s a part of why genre fiction tends to be looked down upon by our “high class” ivory-towered counterparts over in the literary world.
I think on a subconscious level I’ve understood that problem. In “Shades of Red,” for example, I end the story just before the last big fight with the last big bad. My reasoning was that it would be just one more action scene between a hero and a villain, and who needs one more of those? Don’t we know how those always end up? After all, if the hero loses, that’s probably the beginning of the story, not the end. And I think it worked. Most people I got feedback from seemed to agree.
In several of my other stories, I’ve tried to circumvent the big punch ending with some clever twist. In my math pulp story currently out for consideration, the hero defeats the big monster with (pseudo)science, no blood drawn. In my Sevastian Dusan story (which still needs heavy revision before I try to send it anywhere) the heroine finds what I would consider a pretty unconventional and nonviolent solution to a standard life-threatening scenario.
I love a good fight scene, but I think there’s a lot of truth to the dilemma DeMetteis presents. None of us wants to experience violence in real life, so why do we always make our heroes so good at dispensing pain and punishment? Is the only measure of heroism how hard a punch they can take?
It’s something to keep in mind, anyway. If you’ve got a smart character, don’t dumb them down just for a bang-up ending.
With that in mind, I worked a bit on a writing exercise tonight featuring Harry Webster, who I’ve written of once before (and who I planned to include in my Scarlet Ranger novel). Harry is a boy genius son of a genius inventor and adventurer. He’s sort of my homage to the old Johnny Quest (or even DC’s Champions of the Unknown)-style heroes that you don’t really see anymore (though the Venture Bros. cartoon is a fantastic parody of them). By 15 or so Harry invents his signature gadget, the Quantum Hopper, which allows him to shrink down to microscopic size and have all sorts of adventures in a tiny scale.
So here is young Harry at an earlier age, on what might be one of his first adventures.
The writing prompt: Write a story about…a playground monster.
This is just a bit of it. If I can finish and polish it up I may try submitting it somewhere.
Harry Webster, aged seven, lay in a thin layer of gravel and peered up at the complex latticework overhead. Red paint slopped on a series of interlocking triangles. Other children swung amongst the bars, screaming and laughing. Harry imagined there was some kind of message there, about chaos and laughter in a universe attempting to force order onto orderless being. Then some kid suggested that Harry’s head was in fact comprised of excrement and interrupted his reverie. The young boy, Harry had forgotten his name, or rather had never bothered to take note of it, fled toward the teachers hovering at the edge of the playground.
Harry sighed and sat up. He supposed the appropriate response would be to respond in kind? Or should he report the misbehavior to the teachers? Neither option seemed viable. Or perhaps he should find empathy with one of his other classmates? One glance at the other commonly bullied children, though, quickly dispelled that idea. One appeared to be picking his nose, and the other was attempting to use a heavy rock as a teeter-totter partner.
The analyzer in Harry’s pocket beeped. He peered at the small green-tinted read-out. Disappointingly, there was nothing interesting about the small, smooth rocks that carpeted the playground. He tossed the stone aside, dejected. Perhaps the geology on the other side of the fence would offer more unique properties…