Peggy Bechko: Giving Your Characters the Squeeze

stressby Peggy Bechko

We writers know readers, whether novel readers or script readers, can’t hardly resist turning your pages when you work to force your characters to face difficult decisions. It’s nearly a compulsion for that reader to find out how your characters are going to cope with, sort out and come to terms with those decisions.

It’s a fact.

So, how do we, as writers, manage to accomplish that? How do we take characters of our creation, for whom we actually form some gently twisted attachments, present them with moral predicaments in the story and get them to flounder through to solutions?

There are a number of ways. Today I’m going to focus on just one. This is a great one. Put simply, put your character’s convictions to the test. Bribe them, threaten them, jerk them around. Don’t play nice. Make them suffer. Hard? Can be, yes, but it’s what you need to do.

Put your characters in difficult situations. Analyze your story and come up with what the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist in this story – then think of something even worse and make it so that protagonist must choose between the two.

What? How?

Think about this for example. Your protagonist is a fireman, a brave, even heroic man, fiercely loyal to his firefighting brothers, dedicated to saving lives and property. What would it take for him to burn down a highrise or set fire to a forest? How much money would it take? Or would it even be money? Is someone threatening his family? Does he have a grudge against the builders because of their shoddy methods that cost his wife her life?

Or another example.

And this one was already done in a movie. What would it take for a loving, devoted, couple to allow the wife to spend a night with a millionaire with no holes barred on what he could request of her? Money? How much? Is there something of great importance they could lose if they didn’t agree? Where would this all lead?

How about a great cop, one who believes in justice. How far will he go to pursue it? What would he be willing to do to get the bad guy as he sees it? Would he be willing to plant evidence where it’s lacking? Would he be willing to lie (commit perjury)? Would he be willing to see an innocent person go to prison or even death row in order to serve what seems to be greater good?

The key here is to dig deep into your characters beliefs and desires. His or her priorities and prejudices, then put that to the test. Seriously bruise them.

Your character wants freedom? Is that character willing to die for it? Or to ensure someone else enjoys the freedom he or she can’t attain?

How far will they go? What would it take for them to go against their own strong beliefs and convictions?

Think about it. Then go forth and make your characters miserable.

One thought on “Peggy Bechko: Giving Your Characters the Squeeze

  1. But really, can you be taught to write? And I don’t mean penmanship. I, personally, don’t think so. “Encouraged” — yes. “Advised” — right on! But actually taught — tough. Our kind of writing — ‘CREATIVE WRITING’ — comes from a ‘DEEPER SOURCE’. EXAMPLE: A Man (or Woman) leaves his house on an important (but personal) mission. The reader knows something about this mission, but hardly everything. And one of the things the reader knows is that upon reaching the “Corner of 6th and VICTORIA Street” our hero must turn LEFT, quicken his pace — and in so-doing almost gets run over! Shakened, but not defeated, he continues on unaware that he’s turned RIGHT! And the plot thickens. Simple as all that. You’re a writer. gs

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