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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

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Been a while, hasn't it?

I'm presently (yes, still) plotting out a novel. One of the problems I'm facing is how is the main character going to defend herself? She probably will end up with a small gun, but allow me to walk you through my thought process. (Please note that this has absolutely nothing to do with current politics or attitudes about firearms. *)

Weapons = power. So what happens when a person gets so good at defending themselves with a natural or supernatural weapon that it gets boring? 

Bear with me a minute.

The sheriff has the biggest, baddest gun in town, and all he has to do is point it in the direction of the bad guys, and they drop their weapons and cower in the corner in Freudian fear. As a reader or viewer, that works once or twice, and then you expect that to happen. Maybe the protagonist worked hard to get a bigger and better weapon (or power, in the case of a supernatural protagonist), and through several books (or films) this building of power worked. But when you get to the point where the protagonist relies too much on that big bad weapon, the writing gets lazy and the readers get bored.

This, I'm convinced, beyond all political reasons, is why MacGyver didn't use guns. It's more exciting to watch the hero use his brains and his well, macgyvering skills, to outwit the bad guys. **

So what happens when the hero has the big, bad weapon that can pretty much save them the trouble of going through the motions of an actual plot? The writer has to toss in roadblocks. Maybe a hostage, explosives that the weapon could trigger, a bad guy with an even bigger, badder weapon. If the wizard knows how to disarm explosives or make guns jam with a spell, then there has to be another roadblock. 

Because it gets boring for both the reader and the writer to have the protagonist use the same weapon, the same power over and over again. 

The writer has another, er, weapon in their arsenal: The reset. Something happens to make the protagonist use their most valued weapon. Somehow they lose their power. The weapon jams or breaks beyond repair (maybe it gets melted in a fire). This forces to the protagonist to go back to the basics and rely more on their wits. Or maybe there's a cost to using that weapon. What if it makes you sick? (P. N. Elrod used that with Jack Fleming to curb his power to influence people into doing what he wanted them to do.) What if the protagonist discovers that using the weapon causes something bad to happen elsewhere? Now there's a real cost to using that weapon or power, and it can only be used as a last resort. This forces the writer to sit down and do some actual plotting!

This has definitely influenced my thinking about how my character defends herself. My story takes place in 1903, so a large hatpin would be an obvious weapon. A small gun could be another weapon. I really want her to rely more on her wits, so I want the weapons to be a last resort. Not that I have anything against weapons. I just don't want to use them as a crutch.

But power is easy. It can be a crutch to limp along what could be a cracking plot. 

Remember in the first Indiana Jones movie where he faced the guy with the fancy swordwork? We expected him to use his whip and he kinda said "screw that" and went for his sidearm. It was a great moment. The next time he was in that sort of situation, he didn't have his gun, so he had to find another way out. Having him use his gun in that situation would have been lazy writing and unsatisfying for the viewer.

So there ya go. That's what's been going through my writer mind lately. I'm still working on stuff. It's just slow. I wish I could push this process, but it is what it is. I guess. Thanks for reading along.

* No, I'm not anti-gun. Let's not even go there. Thank you.

** And speaking of Richard Dean Anderson, "Legend" is available on DVD! This was a summer replacement series (remember them?) on UPN (remember that?) starring Anderson and John DeLancie. Here's the IMDb link. We have commenced a rewatch.

Filed under: Writing            
6/19/2018 10:12:09 AM
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