Barrett Manor

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

Suffering and sympathy

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Karen has an interesting entry (and for some reason I can't link directly, so use the link at the left) about why writers put their characters in a position of helplessness or make them suffer. One theory she quotes is that it relates to a mothering instinct. I tend to ascribe to her husband's theory that suffering is part of the puzzle, but I also ascribe to hers that suffering should be part of the conflict of a story.

The timing on that was interesting for me as I saw a perfect example in a fanfic that I read last night. I won't link to it, but it was a House story. The author had Cameron sick, and House decided to sit back and let the doctors do their job because he loves her so much. There were several problems with the way the disease was framed within the story:

First, I can't see House sitting back and doing nothing. And if someone he loves is ill, he'll do everything in his power. This was pretty much covered in Three Stories. The author told me privately that she believed that House would step back because he didn't want one of his wild treatment schemes to backfire. That makes some sense, but I'll talk more about that in the second point.

As a sort of point 1.A, this took place in another state, so House probably wouldn't have had the credentials to practice medicine. He could suggest away, but not treat. See point three.

Second, one of House's specialties is infectious disease. He suspected bacterial meningitis. Early treatment is important. If he really loved Cameron, would he withhold that vital piece of information? Would he risk her dying?

Point 2.A: House is sarcastically thinking to himself that it's too bad he's unable to reach Cuddy and tell her this story. WTF? If Cameron has a bacterial infection, he'd be on the phone to Cuddy stat on the chance that Cameron's illness is hospital-related. And House always carries a cell phone. Give me a break.

Third, there is no tension. Cameron suffers terribly. She nearly dies. But since we are told early on that she's going to live and House barely interracts with the other doctors, her suffering has no meaning in terms of the story. Here is a wonderful opportunity for House to be conflicted over the fact that he can't do anything for Cameron. If he loves her, wouldn't he be doing that? Instead, he just watches, refusing to tell the doctors that either he or Cameron are in the medical profession.

The House I know would be all over these doctors like a cheap suit. He'd bring Cameron into the ER and start barking orders, which would put him in immediate conflict with the ER docs. What if the ER docs didn't think it was bacterial meningitis? Oops! Another opportunity for conflict.

This story falls flat because there's no tension, no conflict.

Stories in which House or Cameron has an accident or falls deathly ill and the other realizes that they're in love are a dime a dozen. If a writer wants to re-tread this territory, then the story had better stand out.

Speaking of overly-trodden territory, how many long-lost daughters and nieces does House have, anyway? Makes you wonder how he had time to finish medical school and get a double speciality with all the kids he was fathering. And the nieces? He's an only child. I noticed that someone finally twigged on that and wrote in a reason why her Mary Sue called House "uncle." I'll give the author points for that. [/end tangent]

Suffering for the sake of suffering just doesn't work. Suffering needs to drive some aspect of the tale. Does the one who suffers change? How about those around the sufferer? Does the suffering create a weakness that means the sufferer has to find a creative way to solve a problem? The suffering should have some impact on the story. Otherwise, it's pretty much a useless appendage.

I'm working on a fanfic right now in which the protagonist is going through a bad patch. What I'm hoping to do is to resolve the suffering in a way to make the protagonist stronger but without the charactr wangsting every other paragraph over his predicament. This will be a challenge, but I think I can do it. If not, the story won't see the light of your monitor. It won't be a total loss because I've learned some interesting things while writing this piece.

Now I've got some cleaning to do before I can even think about going to bed. Good night!

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Filed under: Writing   Fanfic   House MD      
1/7/2006 7:50:00 PM
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