Editing Challenge Day 11: Turning Up the Heat

The Blairzone - 36

This is a new part of my 30-Day Editing Challenge. Start at the beginning or find other days here.

Last time I talked about building a character that is multi-layered, existing in multiple spheres of existence. But that’s not enough for a compelling story; we also need to turn up the heat. If we think about great characters from stories that we loved, we are almost never seeing those characters at a time when everything is fine and dandy. In fact, we are dipping into the character’s life at exactly the point of greatest strain.

Think about when you’ve chosen to show us a slice of your character’s life. Is it a time when things are more or less all right? For a story to be memorable and compelling, we need to put a character under threat. That character’s very hold on life must be in question in one way or another. This threat can be physical or emotional or financial; but it must be real, and it must be targeted.

What I mean by that is that if you’ve established a character who deeply desires a stronger relationship with his father, then it’s not the right threat to have a bear going through his garbage. We need to find a threat that is tailor-made for this character’s particular insecurities. If we think back to the example of the Larry Brown story I mentioned, about a guy whose wife is flashed by a stranger, this is the right threat because the character has a great deal of insecurity about his own masculinity. The harassment from a strange man is a direct threat to his own sense of manly pride and ability to protect his wife.

So today, take a moment to examine the threat that you’ve selected for your character. Is it pushing the bruise? Accessing the weak points? We need to understand who the character is by seeing what makes him nearly buckle under the strain. If your character has a fear of spiders, then a spider has to walk in the door.

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