Thursday, June 7, 2012

Give Your Characters An Out

You've been through some tough times in your life. You've made some decisions you regret; done and said some things you wish you hadn't.

I don't need to know you personally to know this. One of the most important things I've learned in my life is that everyone has issues. Some peoples issues are big and showy, some peoples issues are easier to hide. But everyone has issues. And as such, everyone has been through some tough times. That's life.

But you know what can make those tough times even tougher?

Having an out you didn't take.

You know what I mean. The dark feels just that much darker when you know you had a way out, an opportunity to right the ship that you didn't take. Missing an out can magnify regret and lead to some serious second-guessing down the road. It makes tough times tougher.

And it can add darkness, depth, and a psychological edge to your story.

You character's in trouble, the world is crumbling around her. Then the realization hits, "None of this would have happened if I would have just given the wizard back his giraffe." (or whatever)

Now your character has something to torture herself with. She has regret. She has something to remember when the next big decision comes her way. Has she learned from her mistakes or will she repeat them? Can she even recognize the out when it looks her in the face?

Give your characters an out and then don't let them take it. They won't love you for it but your audience will.

20 comments:

  1. You make a good point here. Some of my favorite books have had characters that had a way out and failed to take it.

    Thanks for sharing this!

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  2. Nice. Definitely a great tool to use. :D

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  3. As long as it doesn't feel like a false choice, this can be very effective. But if it comes down to "If I'd just given the wizard back his giraffe" meaning there wouldn't have been a conflict in the story at all if said giraffe was returned expediently, or that everything would have been resolved in one fell swoop, that doesn't work for me. If the character made the obvious wrong choice when they could have had an easy out early on with no consequences to anyone, I usually put the book down. I don't want to read about anyone that stupid! :) Not to mention I'd doubt the character's ability to solve the larger problem created by their initial bad choice.

    Conversely, if the out would only lead to safety for the main character, while the rest of the world crumbled around them, it's also a false choice, because if they don't make the "wrong" choice, the world ends and so does the book. It's not a viable choice and feels forced to the reader.

    Still, if presented with two options and each is as likely as the other to lead to success or failure, this is a fantastic device! Hindsight is 20/20, as long as the reader gets to that 20/20 moment at the same time the main character does.

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    1. Dang Laura, you really keep me on my toes!

      I understand what you're saying and I agree with most of your points. However, concerning the "world crumbling" comment, I think having a character choose personal safety over the crumbling world, in the proper context, can be a great story line. Since when does the end of the world not make a good story?

      Good input. Thanks!

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  4. Yup. That's a very good point. You've got the right mindset to write great characters. :)

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  5. Insightful. Something to think about. Thanks :)

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  6. Stopping in to let you know that I have some awards for you on my blog.

    http://lgkeltner.blogspot.com/

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    1. Well thank you for the award! You chose some great books.

      Any that's a lovely wedding dress. You two look like such a happy couple. :)

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  7. This is great advice. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. This is the best writing advice I've read all week... and a good reminder for anyone who's hit a wall in their writing. Thank you for posting!

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  9. FYI: I nominated you for a blog award over on my blog!

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    1. Cool! I'll check it out. Thanks for thinking of me!

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  10. I agree with Laura, there are a lot of ways that this idea could go wrong. But if someone can pull it off, it really does add that darker edge to the story.

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    1. I agree.

      Has anyone ever told you that you look a little like Danica McKellar in that picture?

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Love to get comments!!!