Giving your characters something to live for

(NaNoWriMo cheerleading post for November 9 – comment on this post if you would like me to address a specific topic)

At this stage of NaNoWriMo, real life (whatever that is) has probably reared its ugly head once again.  Whether it is the election, too many doctor’s appointments, a fight with a partner, or a new and challenging job, something interfered with writing time, and you experienced the temptation to put it aside.  Just this once.  Because after all, it’s not that important to write a novel or a memoir, is it?No, it’s not.  Wait.  Yes it is.  For you, for your reader, and for your characters.  All for the same reason:

People need a reason to go on.

When we tell a story, we get a chance to put our most important values out there, so that our readers can have a transformative experience.  And we do it in many ways, but largely through our characters.  They need to be believable for your reader to identify with them.  And for that, they must have something they want so badly they’re willing to take awful risks, whether it’s stealing a candy bar from the vending machine or running out, guns blazing, into the midst of the battle.

Take a moment and ask yourself:

What does this character fear most?  want most?  take for granted?  What has my character achieved that he is not willing to give up?  What is she most ashamed of?  What does she stand for?

Got it?  Good.  Now, right now, in the next page of your story, give them what they fear most, take away what they want, upend their status quo, threaten their achievements, let their secrets out, and make them stand up for what they believe in the midst of all that.  That is the key to compelling characters.

And then take a moment to think about yourself.  You took on NaNoWriMo for good reasons.  Let this moment of adversity (whatever it was that caused you to stop and question yourself or put off writing) be a turning point in your own story.  Be the protagonist in your own life.  You get to write it any way you want.

You’re a pretty compelling character yourself.

Tomorrow:  Time travel – how to find writing time.

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