What will your characters do? — February 25, 2010

What will your characters do?

Sorry, this isn’t a What Would You Do? post.  I’m running dry on WWYD ideas so that feature is going on hold for a while.

Today I want to talk about what your characters will do to achieve their goals.  How far will they go?  Where is that line that they’ll either have to cross or at least toe in the narrative?

I was listening to the original Broadway recording of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” the other day in the car.  (Yes, I’m a showtunes nerd.)  I don’t know if you’ve read the book.  I haven’t.  But in the play, Blakeney, our main character/hero, sets off routinely across the English Channel to rescue victims of the French Revolution before they meet the guillotine’s blade.

As suspicion begins to mount around him and his cohorts in heroism, they reach that line.  They find that point where they have to cross it or go back and lose all the deeds they’ve done.

What’s that line?

The number from the musical titled “The Creation of Man,” answers that question.  In it they are singing about how the Lord created men to be the ones who set the bar for beauty and fashion.

During this number, the audience was pretty much near to rolling in the aisles.  Blakeney and his men put on the powdered wigs, the makeup, all of it.  They do everything they possibly can to convince people that they are sissy men who would rather talk lace than fight with a sword and risk death to save others.

That’s the length they go to in order to protect their cause.  The entire plot, everything that comes before this, leads up to the decision to cross this line and say to themselves, “What we’re doing is more important than how we’re perceived by society.”

So, do you know where that line is for your characters?  How often do they approach near to it and then shy away?  At what point are they unable to do so?  That’s the emotional turning point for them.  There could be multiple internal turning points, even for the same plot or subplot, but you need to know where that line is so you can constantly raise the stakes.

For my main character the line is where she has to make the choice to either use the magic she’s been given or refuse to take advantage of the thing about herself she dislikes and face the consequences.  It’s going to be a major issue through the entire trilogy.  That decision drives her in every instant.  (I hope.)