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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Tip #15: Our Characters Must Make Hard to Near-Impossible Choices.

Tip #15: Our Characters Must Make Hard to Near-Impossible Choices.

We all know about Richard Kimble from The Fugitive and his search for the one-armed man.  (Yes, it’s a movie and an early TV show, and we write novels, but the principles of “Story” are the same.)

Now, what if a friend of his says: “That Richard Kimble is a good man. He cares about people. He cares about everyone. I admire him.”

Or, what if Richard Kimble is placed in a situation where he is struggling for his freedom, for  his life, as he is trapped in a bus, a train is bearing down on it, and certain to demolish it!

What does he do? Does he run and save himself? No. Does he stop to save the life of a gravely-injured sheriff, one of the same ones who was going to put him away? Yes. And all of that while the train is getting closer and closer.

Two Questions:  
  1.  Which of the above is “telling” us what kind of person Richard Kimble is? 
  2.  Which of the above is “showing” us what kind of person Richard Kimble is?
Pretty clear, yes?

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Another question: Which one was more vivid and satisfying to you as a viewer? Which one could you really “feel.”

Point: Our characters must make choices. Tough choices. Near-impossible choices, in some instances.

We, ourselves make important choices too. Will we finish Chapter 2 of the novel we're writing or take crying Sammy to the zoo? Will we watch the final minute of the game or go upstairs to where Sally is waiting  in the bedroom?

Point: Our choices tell us who we are. They tell us what we value. They tell us about resolve and courage and our moral compass. Or lack of it. Our choices show the world who we are. 

Point: The choices our characters make show the reader who they are.

Which two fiction characters never really make important choices? Superman and James Bond. They don’t have to make choices.  We already know who they are. We know they’ll win. Our fun is simply in watching them fight evil and destroy the bad guys.

But our own characters cannot be so one-sided as Superman or James Bond.  They must have personal difficulties- such as family, work, sex, love, weight-gain, addictions, phobias, or something else that helps the reader see and feel the character, helps the reader relate to the character from the inside.  
We must put our characters in situations so that in making their choices they have to confront their biggest weakness. 

Example: What is Indiana Jones’ biggest fear?  Snakes.  And in the final scene, what must he overcome—that precise fear, snakes.

Point: The harder the choices our characters make, the more that character becomes known to our reader.

What was the hardest choice that any character had to make? ---To choose which one of her two little children will die in an Auschwitz gas chamber, and which one will live. After agonizing over the decision, the soldiers arrive and force the decision. She has to choose one child. Just one. And she does. Ugh. Talk about tough.

Does she explain her choice? Yes she does. (No spoiler here.) And her justification says everything about her.

Homework:
  1. Number the choices our characters make in our story. 1,2,3,4.  Then go back and see if these are difficult enough choices that the reader can feel the crux of the  dilemma while revealing that person’s inner character.
  2. Watch a TV or movie drama from beginning to end. Look for the choices in each scene. Are they difficult enough? How do they affect you as the viewer. Take notes.

And happy writing.

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