Challenging Your Characters

Make things as tough as you can for your characters.

We’ve all heard this bit of advice again and again so we throw challenges in front of our characters, snatching victory from their grasp at the last moment, prolonging and, hopefully, heightening the struggle.  But are we doing all that we can do?  Are we truly making things as tough as we can?

Last week I finished reading The Dark Divine by Bree Despain.  Despain not only thwarts Grace’s plans as often as possible, she does it in a way that challenges Grace’s moral code.  Grace is a PK (preacher’s kid) — not a bratty PK but at PK who knows the community is watching her, waiting for her to mess up.  She also has an extremely well developed sense of ethics because her father believes in putting his moral message to work as does her older brother.  She’s seen their beliefs acted upon her whole life.

How to mess things up as much as possible?  Give her a seemingly impossible choice.

DO NOT READ ON IF YOU ARE GOING TO FUSS ABOUT  A MAJOR PLOT SPOILER.

MAJOR.

PLOT.

SPOILER.

IF YOU DO READ ON, DO NOT FUSS AT ME ABOUT THIS.

I WARNED YOU.

Grace has it in a bad, bad way for Daniel — seeming bad boy.  Her brother has warned her away from him, he hangs out with an unsavory crowd and what is with all the blood?  Turns out that Daniel is what some people would call a were wolf.  He had help getting there (even Grace unwittingly played a part). Were wolves, in Despain’s universe, were God’s chosen warriors against things that go bump in the night.  Unfortunately, they got a bit too impressed with themselves and now have a strong tendency to eventually loose their humanity and number among the damned.  There is a cure — for the damnation.  But it means stabbing the wolf heart and this blow must be administered in love.  Grace is sure she can do it, but what happens when Daniel is severely injured?  She can cure him of his were wolf “problem” but then he may not be able to survive the injuries and it is clear that the cure must be administered now.  But if she does it, it will mean that she has killed him, committing murder and damning herself in the process.

Wow.

Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.

So, as you set up the big confrontation for your character — think about it.  Think about what they want more than anything.   Think about your character’s moral code.  Try to come up with a situation that makes them the winner but also costs them everything.

Do you have the guts to try?

–SueBE