Plot Complications: Necessary Evils?

I love Lord of the Rings, the books and the movies.   And I’m addicted to the videos on the  How  It Should Have Ended website. 

Naturally, this vid is one of my favorites:

I love this.  It’s unexpected, irreverent, and it might have worked

But this fix bypasses a lot of worthwhile stuff.*  Friendship, love, valor, life lessons, family, heroics . . . Ents.  

And we wouldn’t care about sparing these characters all their pain and suffering if they hadn’t had a chance to become beloved characters . . . which happened because of how they dealt with pain and suffering.

Of course, Tolkien knew how to manipulate his characters.  I don’t recall any part of the Lord of the Rings** where I thought, “Oh, this character is acting like an idiot solely because Tolkien needed to get to point B.”  That, in fact, might have been the case, but I can’t see the strings.***

Complications are good, strings are bad.

I’m more than willing to make my own characters suffer . . . but I’m still working on motivation.   You can give a character any kind of complication, but if he doesn’t have sufficient reason to move in the direction you want, and you make him do it anyway . . . the scene just doesn’t come out right.^  

For example, I need my male MC to leave his hotel suite for an hour or so—never mind why—and since he also needs to have a certain conversation with his sociopathic ex-girlfriend, it seemed to make sense to combine the two.  But at this point, there’s no way he’d agree to come within fifty feet of her, if I didn’t have an all-too-visible plot string around his ankle.

So, I think I need to add some pressure a little earlier.  Some misdirection, a little interference . . . a little pain, a little suffering.  So when she calls and tells him to meet her at a Starbucks across town in forty minutes, he has to know what she knows, even if he’d rather have a root canal.    Look, Ma, no strings!

So, yeah.  I think “kill your darlings” refers to more than brilliant, misplaced sentences. . . but it has to be done right.

Off I go to practice!


*Except for Tom Bombadil, who was written into the wrong story.  To their credit, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens (the scriptwriters) appear to have known this—but I always got the impression that Tom did, too.

** The Hobbit, however, clearly demonstrates (to my mind) several standard romance genre complications™, including my least favorites, lack of basic, honest communication and a smidgen of Too Stupid to Live.  But Tolkien still makes it work.  And I love Bilbo anyway.

***Not even around Tom Bombadil, who, to add a rant, simply doesn’t make metaphorical,  folkloric, or storytelling sense to me.   Anyone have an explanation?

^No matter what Livingston Taylor says.  And says well.


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