Parent vs. god vs. Santa

By and large, as writers we love the characters we write. For whatever their flaws, they're the people we're choosing to spend our time with. They've become our friends. This, I think, is a danger point.

As writers, we aren't writing happy stories about happy people. If we are, 99.9% chance we aren't selling it! "Nothing proceeds in the story except through conflict." (Robert McKee) No conflict = no story.

Conflict comes from wanting something and not getting it. All the ways of not getting it, all the failed plans and paths to trying to get it. This is overlaid with the personal belief system of whether getting it should happen.

If our character is our friend, we try to protect them. If we feel like the parents, we want to shield them. If we are Santa, then we give them space to act and reward them regardless. (Has anyone EVER gotten coal in his/her stocking?)

This thinking keeps stakes low and characters flabby.

In LOM, I knew Elize had to radically change in order to actually get the outcomes she wanted in her life. The only way that could happen would require short-term agony for long-term benefit. She had to break, in every way, before she could be remade, pliable and open. In this way the mythic Hero's Journey rings true to life: pain can birth redemption and a new start.

You have to give the character pain, agony on top of that, failure and breaking -- you have to see their future like a deity, realizing the ultimate benefit of the current moment for their growth. You must grit your teeth through their screaming and crying and complaining … knowing it's what's best. (Actually, it's a lot like crate-training a puppy.)

Tough love and long vision makes your characters both more interesting and more believable, and in the end, more satisfying when they achieve what was once only a dream. This tension is where reader interest takes hold, and the realization of the dream is where catharsis is achieved. 

(PS. if you are following the path of a Greek god, escalate the agony to war and kill lots of people along the way.)

© J Suzanne Frank 2013