"Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of
your tunnel, is just a freight train comin' your way."
Leah threw me into a tizzy by coming up with this blog-chain topic: What do you do to amp up the conflict? What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls? How do you torture your characters?
I thought of the line above from Metallica's song "No Leaf Clover" when I read this blog chain topic because it really illustrates how I torture my characters. Whenever they think they see a way out of a problem, the problem turns out to be something so much bigger.
As a reporter, it took a long time for me to grasp this concept because I was used to delivering the who, what, when, where, why and how of the story as efficiently as possible. Thankfully, when JC Lamont gave me an honest critique of "Long Road," she beat the mission of a fiction writer into my head.
"...whatever your scene goal is, it must be thwarted."
I mean, think of it in terms of a writer writing about his/her plight to be published. (I know, booorrrriiinggg.) The first goal is to find an agent. Each query letter sent is like a scene and each rejection is that scene goal being thwarted.
Is there a greater torture than that? For writers, probably not. But there are many kinds of torture, many different kinds of voodoo pins.
There are rolling pins -- physical limitations that keep characters from accomplishing their goals. Maybe they're handicapped. Maybe they're trapped in a burning house. Maybe someone is holding them down. Whatever the physical limitation of a character, it hinders each new step toward his/her goal.
There are safety pins -- spiritual limitations, characters bound by their ethics or beliefs. Regardless of the conflict, the character cannot step outside their self-imposed or God-imposed limitations and it hinders the accomplishment of their goals.
And then there's my personal favorite -- stick pins, emotional torture.
When I set out to write "Long Road," I never intended to pursue publication. I had one goal in mind: I wanted to make people cry. I wanted to write something so powerful that the reader would be wringing her tissue and sobbing right along with my MC. In order to do that, I had to keep making the light at the end of Heather's tunnel a freight train.
Using emotional torture and spiritual limitations, I made Heather her own worst enemy. Her goal is to forget what happened on her eighteenth birthday. First she runs away, but when that no longer works, she turns to another form of running away. When she darn-near destroys herself, she realizes that in order to get what she wants she has to give up what she believes.
If you really think about it, those pins writers use on their characters is a lot like the trials people face in real life: The more intense the adversity, the stronger the character.
Have a great week everyone!