- Their current hurt.
- A fresh hurt.
- The back story hurt.
- The healed hurt.
Let’s look at #1: The Current Hurt
What I mean by the current hurt is that stories begin with a character in a setting, a scene, a place, a locale, whatever. But this is not just a physical place; this is an emotional place for the character is well.
And something is wrong. Amiss. Their life already has a problem, an issue. In a romantic comedy, perhaps it’s the tried and true “unlucky in love” phenomenon. In a spy thriller, perhaps it’s the classic “the bad guys are out there” sentiment. Each genre has its predicament; the dilemma is not the point. The point is that the protagonist is already living in a broken world when the story begins and it is a world which is somehow bringing pain to the hero’s life. The hero might be battling this force, they might be burying their head in the sand denying that this force exists, they might be the very cause of this painful force, or they might be entirely powerless to do something about this force (or so they think), but either way, when a good story begins, one essential characteristic is that the hero’s world is marked by pain.
And this pain is shaping the current life of the protagonist.
Let’s look at a few examples. In The Hunger Games, Katniss is a young girl who is forced to illegally hunt in order to feed her fatherless, practically starving to death family. While the government “haves” have plenty, the “have-nots” in society (especially in her realm of society) are living in an almost hand-to-mouth type of fashion. If Katniss doesn’t bring home food, her younger sister, the shining light of her life, doesn’t eat. Powerful stuff for sure. But also indicative of my theory on “The Current Hurt”. Katniss lives an oppressed life. The powers that be – unconquerable, unquestionable, savage, unfeeling powers – have created dire, painful circumstances in Katniss’s life and this pain is a driving, defining force which quite literally forges her character.
How about the classic novel Animal Farm? When the book opens, the oppression of mankind – the current hurt – creates a world of suffering for the animals, the protagonists of Orwell’s book.
How about Shakespeare’s Hamlet? King Hamlet is dead, Prince Hamlet is living with an uncle who is sleeping with his mother while enemies plan to invade from lands far away and the prince, our hero, is distraught, discombobulated, and doesn’t know what to do about any of it.
All before Act I Scene I even begins. Talk about a guy who is living in a world of hurt.
In my book Cinder-Smella our hero is being treated like a rented mule by her evil stepfamily.
In my book Homeboyz, streets gangs have brought chaos, violence and a type of asocial anarchy to the local neighborhood, bringing pain to all those who live in the area. In my bookNerd Girls, the pretty, popular “perfect” girls tyrannically torment the schoolyard “have-nots”. Nerd pain provides these girls with entertainment.
Indeed, stories open with a protagonist living in a current world of hurt before we even really get to meet them.
And then it gets worse. (BTW, you’re probably intrigued by that idea right now, the idea that, “It’s already bad, and then it gets worse? Oh my God, how?” That’s the natural reaction of any audience to this notion, very much the nest principle I am about to illuminate at work.)