Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Royal Mistakes

A MC needs to really mess up. And I don’t mean mess up like they chose chocolate when they meant vanilla. There has to be a huge consequence and we, the reader, need to feel it. More importantly, we need to sympathize.

Sympathy requires understanding, being able to put yourself in the MC’s shoes. You understand their mistake and already forgive them before they even ask for it. You even forgive them before the other characters do and you hope along with the MC that the other characters will also forgive him. Moreover, we feel angry with the characters who choose not to forgive.

This mistake can be a lesson in humility, perseverance, or even a life-threatening lesson. In Ordinary people, Timothy Hutton’s character, Conrad, is the younger brother who survives a boating accident and as such carries the guilt of his survival around like a badge of shame: It should have been me who died.

To get in touch with such deep emotions, think back to a time when you really messed up. I mean REALLY. Think back to a critical moment in your life when you thought life would never be the same because of the mistake you made, a moment when you went down one road instead of the other and as a result had serious consequences to pay. Meditate on that memory. Really bring up the emotions of the decision, its consequences, and the reaction of the people who mattered to you at the time. Did your mother hold you and forgive you while you sobbed in her arms? Did your father hug you and tell you he loved you no matter what? Did you lose a friend? Did you have to face a teacher and confess to your mistake?

Journal about it. Write everything you can remember, the clothes you were wearing, the way you did your hair, how your body tensed up perhaps, everything and anything you remember, write down. Then consider how your MC can also royally mess up. Ultimately, the goal of a writer is to create characters who live and breathe and what better way then to make them royally mess up. After all, to err is human...

Care to share? If you have a particular memory you’d like to share, by all means...

“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous