3 More pointers (continued)... (continued)
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HOW TO CREATE & KILL YOUR DARLING CHARACTERS - 3 More pointers
By © A P von K’Ory
Point 3: Drive Your Protagonist With Their Back Against the Wall
Killing your darling does not necessarily mean the actual death. It often means not giving them an easy way out (something I’m very often prone to do). Don’t give your protagonist any room to wriggle out. I still haven’t come up with a satisfactory alternative for Roman, except for him to keep his baby and former girlfriend a secret from Shana. But this is too easy, I’m giving him room to wiggle out! You should drive your protagonist to the limit; force them to make a choice, to act. Don’t let them abstain. Take them through the process of dilemma, choice, action and consequence:
a) Something that matters must be at stake (Roman losing Shana, his great love).
b) There’s no easy solution, no easy way out (Roman can’t simply keep things secret because sooner or later the truth will have to be told).
c) Our protagonist must make an either/or choice. He must act, not abstain.
d) Whatever choice the protagonist takes must deepen the tension and propel the story forward.
e) The protagonist must live with the consequences of his decisions and actions. (And this last detail is where I now find myself procrastinating: could Roman abide by his child and lose Shana, or have Shana and abandon his baby? Anyone reading this is welcome to send me their suggestions).
With an easy solution, there’s no true moral dilemma. Avoid ever making the decision based on “the lesser of two evils” because if one is lesser, it makes the decision easier. Think of my Urquhart example – your protagonist is in it to the death!
Let’s take, for example, the suggestion in Point 1 above, and force your protagonist to choose between honouring equal obligations. They could be caught between loyalty to two parties, or perhaps be torn between familial obligations and career responsibilities. Now, raise the stakes by putting their marriage as well as their career at risk, but they can’t save both two. What do they do?
The more imminent you make the choice and the higher the stakes that decision carries, the sharper the dramatic tension and the greater your readers’ emotional engagement. To achieve this, ask What if? as well as the questions that inevitably follow:
• What if she knows that being with the man she loves will cause him to lose his career? How much of her lover’s happiness would she be willing to sacrifice to be with him?
• What if a lawyer find themselves defending someone they know is guilty? What do they do? What if that person is the lawyer’s best friend or father?
• What if your protagonist has to choose between killing himself or being forced to watch a friend – or raise stakes higher to their innocent child – die?
Again, make your protagonist revaluate their beliefs, question their assumptions and justify their choices. Ask yourself: How is the protagonist going to get out of this? What will they have to give up (something precious, whether materially or emotionally) or take upon themselves (something painful, whether physically or emotionally) in the process?
Explore those precipitous and slippery cliffs. Bury yourself into those grey areas. Don’t ask direct questions that elicit a yes or no answer, such as: Is killing the innocent ever justified? Rather, frame the question indirectly, in a way that forces you to take things deeper: When is killing the innocent justified? Instead of, Does the end justify the means? ask, When does the end justify the means?
Point 4: Your Genre of Choice Offers You The Dilemmas
Have a close look at your genre and encourage it to influence the choices your protagonist must face. For instance, crime stories spontaneously lend themselves to exploring issues of justice and injustice: At what point do revenge and justice converge? What does that require of your protagonist? When is pre-emptive justice really injustice?
Love, romance and relationship stories often dwell on the themes of faithfulness and betrayal: When is it better to hide the truth than to share it? How far can you cover the truth before it becomes a lie? When do you tell someone a secret that would hurt them? For example, your protagonist, a young bride-to-be, has a one-night stand. She feels terrible because she loves her fiancé, but should she reveal to him what happened and break him up—and perhaps lose him—or should she keep the truth hidden?
Fantasy, myth and science fiction are excellent avenues for exploring issues of consciousness, humanity and morality. You could pick up the theme of self-awareness and explore how something – an animal, a computer, an unborn baby – needs to be, before it should be allowed the same rights as those given to developed humans. At what stage does destroying an Artificial Intelligent computer become murder? Is free will really in our hands or are our choices determined by our genetic makeup and environmental cues?
Point 5: Search for the Third Alternative.
What you need is for your readers to be thinking, I haven’t got a clue how on earth this is ever going to work out. And then, when they see where things proceed to, you need the readers’ satisfaction.
Perhaps you are familiar with the Bible story about an era when religious leaders snatched a woman who committed adultery and brought her to Jesus. In those days, in that culture, committing adultery earned the death sentence for women. In this story, the men asked Jesus what they should do with this woman. Now, if Jesus had advised them to simply let the woman go free, he would have contravened the law. On the other hand, if he advised them to put her to death, he would have undermined his own message of forgiveness and mercy. Jesus seemed to be trapped in a sterling dilemma until he said, “Whoever is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Brilliant. That’s the kind of “trick” that you, the creative writer, need to do with your protagonist – run away from a yes or a no, and find The Third Alternative. And that is finding a solution that will be consistent with the protagonist’s attitude, beliefs and priorities, while also being logical and above all else, unexpected, from the reader’s point of view.
In my Golden Shana series, I’ve found what I judge a temporary Third Alternative for Roman: to be a father and a (non-intimate) partner of the mother of his coming baby. But this still leaves me scratching my head: how will he sort this out if he reveals all the facts and the truth to the woman he loves desperately – Shana.
As writers, we have to make the solutions that our heroes come up with to be both surprising and unavoidable. We need to straddle the protagonist with some apparently impossible conundrum, then fish them out of it by offering the Third Alternative.
- By A P von K’Ory
Facebook Author Page: https://facebook.com/APVonKORY
GOLDEN SHANA: The Chase
GOLDEN SHANA: The Capture
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Author’s Note: I write in British English, so some spellings and phrasal verbs may be unfamiliar to American English speakers.
Strategies for Peace, by Bruce L. Cook and Maria Cristina Azcona (eds.)
BRUCE L. COOK AND MARIA CRISTINA AZCONA - Full Index. I join Maria Cristina Azcona in offering this collection of viewpointers on peace making. She and I joined Ernest Kahan in 2014 to establish the Worldwide Peace Organization in Argentina. Here we identify a startling variety of facets on the crystal which represents peace. Virtually everyone claims to want world peace. Only a few take measures to promote it. Each writer who seeks peace suggests a unique dimension. It's our hope that this volume will encourage students, professors, and peacemakers to consider this comprehensive look at ten strategy perspectives which, if taken seriously in private and public life, might lead to our shared objective - worldwide peace in our time. * Leadership * Language and Leadership * Interspiritual * World Citizenship * Family Relations * Role of Women * Education * Medical Actions * The Arts * Conflict Resolution
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November 2017 (no. 1811)
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