It’s October, and I’d hazard that approximately half of the NaNoWriMo population is currently plotting their novels, while the other half is snickering behind their hands over the fact that they aren’t doing anything at all to prep for their novels. There is a long-standing argument over whether or not plotting or pantsing is the way to go, and let’s face it, we all tend to think the other side of the coin is wrong.
But, we’re all in this together, and whether or not you plot now, or you work yourself into a frenzy plotting while you draft, you will likely have to ask yourself this question: Are you coddling your characters?
Excuse me while I duck and cover behind this couch. I can practically hear the screams of, “No! I torture my characters!”
Do you, really? Or do you just think you do? There is a big difference.
Inflicting temporary pain on a character is easy. Using torture for long-term infliction is easy, too. But, do you let your characters escape facing the consequences of their actions?
A lot of writers I’ve encountered forget to do this, and they lose a great opportunity to really torture their characters. It is one thing to hesitate for a moment, be it jumping out in traffic to get a kid out of harm’s way or doing something else that gets themselves or someone else hurt. It is a complete other to have the character make a choice, and then have that choice come back to bite them later. It’s a different sort of impact, when the characters reap what they sow.
It hurts more.
It cuts deeper.
So, how do you know whether or not you’re letting your characters pay the price for their actions? First, you need to track the decisions they’ve made that will bite them later. Then, you need to give the action a consequence that will really, really bother the character. Let them really experience the horrors of what they’ve done. It adds depth to the character, and an edge to your writing.
If you’re a plotter, consider a variable plot line to help you see how the consequences of actions pan out. I already wrote an article about this as a part of a prepping for NaNoWriMo series on my blog.
It is a bit more complicated than just tracking the consequences of actions, however. You need to keep an eye on how your character arcs fall, and how the decisions and actions of your characters drive your plot forward. Whether or not I write it down, I keep track of this stuff when I write. By juxtaposing plot lines and character arcs, it is possible to create round characters with a lot of depth, with plot lines that are a product of your characters and the world they live in.
Plots don’t happen to characters, after all. Your characters create the plot — even if the plot events are created by someone who isn’t present in a scene. Unless you’re working with environmental conflict points, someone out there is responsible for your plot events. Volcanoes don’t tend to erupt because of the actions of a person, which is why environmental conflict points fall outside of the scope of character-created plot points. However, global climate change can be attributed to humans, so you can include that as a character-created plot point.
The line is a little blurred. Play with it. That’s the nice thing about fiction. Present it well, and you can get away with anything.
Are you coddling your characters?
Don’t. You aren’t doing your characters justice, yourself justice as a writer, or your reader justice.
Let them face the consequences of their actions. Let them fall. Let them make mistakes. Let them learn from their mistakes. Let them fail. Let them endure, suffer, and grow stronger.
Heroes don’t need to always succeed, after all. They need to be strong enough to get back up when they fail. That’s what make them a hero. They don’t quit. They don’t give up. They may be broken and bruised, but they aren’t beaten.
And even when they are, they rise up from the ashes of their mistakes.
Let your characters face the consequences of your actions.
Your readers will thank you.