April 12, 2013 by KWills
This is my biggest weakness as a storyteller (at least, the biggest one that I’ve discovered so far). I am too kind to my characters. After all the work I put into making these characters, I can’t bring myself to hurt them. Unfortunately, by protecting my characters I am killing my story.
I can come up with exciting and dramatic scenarios – an orphan uprooted and sent to an unfamiliar home – an ambitious baron engineering a civil war – a pirate radio station fighting an intellectually oppressive regime – the list goes on. But once I start trying to tell the story of those situations, I want to solve the problems of the characters, and make things work out for them. I make the new home a nice place, even if it is strange; I let the baron be a lone madman, rather than an organised threat; I let the pirate station stay safely hidden. All very nice for the characters, but pure poison for the drama.
I need to learn to be cruel to my characters. They may be the key to storytelling, but unless they have to struggle, there is no story to tell. Fighting to overcome obstacles will make the eventual victory so much sweeter, and the drama that much greater.
So this is my new resolution: To be kind to animals, good to all people, and utterly ruthless when it comes to fictional characters. Frustrate their efforts, strike at their deepest emotions, cut down their safety nets. And watch them rise above it all, stronger than ever.