Friday, September 21, 2007

Look for the Injustice

An Essay on Writing
by Dave Swinford

Injustice can be a powerful motivation for your characters and an effective emotional link to your readers. Some classic tales have been propelled by the desire to right a social or political injustice. Alexandre Dumas's The Man In The Iron Mask and The Count Of Monte Cristo grow out of injustices that instill in the reader the desire to see justice done and the protagonist triumph. And of course, many of Shakespeare's plots, including Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet grow out of obvious injustices.

If an author is seeking story ideas, one source can be a consideration of life's many injustices. Simply identify an injustice and build your plot around it. Or, you may want to emulate JK Rowling, who confronts her protagonist, Harry Potter, with what appear to be numerous unfair and unjust obstacles that must be dealt with as he progresses through the story. Readers empathize with Harry. They want him to overcome these injustices, and this desire effectively draws them into Rowling's fictional reality.

Looking for the injustice is especially useful if one is writing a mystery. At the heart of most mysteries lies some sort of injustice, and the sleuth, whether a professional or an amateur, is driven to correct this wrong. This is such a given, that one may assume this injustice too obvious to be worth mentioning. Instead, the focus is on the puzzle or the battle of wits between the sleuth and the antagonist.

I enjoy reading mysteries, yet I find it difficult to recall many of those that presented a witty puzzle, which the protagonist, of course, easily solved. I may have enjoyed following the clues and trying to arrive at a solution long before the end of the book, but the stories simply do not stick with me. The mysteries I do recall are those which contained a clear sense of injustice, a sense that something badly needed to be set right. That sense of injustice made the story feel more personal; it made me feel as if I had an investment in the outcome.

The sense that I was invested in the story also meant that I wanted the unraveling of the mystery to arrive at a satisfying resolution. I wanted to close the book with the feeling that the scales of justice had been balanced. Thus, if you are writing a
mystery and you select details that create a sense of injustice for the reader, do not forget to end the story in a manner that leaves the reader with the feeling that, as much as was possible, justice has been done.

So, when planning that next story, take a few moments to consider whether injustice might be a useful way of effectively drawing the reader into your fictional creation. Consider the details and presentation that will most effectively dramatize the
injustice, and don't forget to leave the reader with a feeling that, in the end, justice was done.

Find the classics mentioned through the Gutenberg Project ...

"Injustice boils in men's hearts as does steel in its cauldron, ready to pour forth, white hot, in the fullness of time." - Mother Jones

1 comment:

Ruth D~ said...

Great suggestion, Dave. "Injustice" gives the writer so many possibilities to choose from. For me, to think in terms of creating a story centered around a specific injustice would be easier than to try to write about the more generically used term: conflict. Thanks.

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