Friday, April 13, 2012

What Your Characters Should Be Thinking

"How the hell did I end up here and how am I going to get out of it?"

This is the quintessential question we all ask ourselves and so should your characters. It doesn't really matter if the question is existential or based in solid reality, so long as it exists.

In fact, I challenge you to find a story that doesn't revolve around that very question in one form or another. It is the driving force and a matter of fact when it comes to examination of the human condition. We all struggle with our place in the world; in our own lives, and expressing this struggle is what makes for compelling writing.

It's also what compels most writers to write. We have our own struggles and we seek to ameliorate these struggles by expressing them through the thoughts and actions of our characters. If our characters can find a resolution we, as the writer, can take solace in the knowledge that a resolution can be found even when it seems we are not in control of our own lives. After all, our characters lives depend on us, the writers, who breathe them to life and hold their destiny in the tips of our fingers.

Comedy, tragedy, romance or suspense--all stories share this common theme. The words, deeds, setting and even time period may change, but the struggle remains the same. If there is no stress for your characters to endure, there is no story.

Here's an example: "Jack awoke to a perfectly good morning. He had nothing to do and no place to be, so he made a cup of coffee, turned on the television and sat down on the couch."

That's not very interesting, but we all know Jack is about to find his morning respite spoiled by something. If not, if life stays that way for Jack for more than a few pages the readers will undoubtedly lose interest. They want something bad to happen to Jack. They want the ceiling to collapse, his boss to call and unexpectedly fire him; his dog to run off, his wife to turn up missing or his car to inexplicably explode. Even an improbable alien invasion would be acceptable to his just sitting there watching television.

That's just life, for most of us. Expecting the unexpected.

Now take a look at the story you are writing and ask yourself this: "How the hell did my characters get here and how are they going to get out?" If that question doesn't apply you might want to consider a re-write.

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