06 October 2013

The Impossible

Not just the improbable, that won’t do. No, it must be the impossible.

I’m still on a #BeMeanToCharacters kick, and my contribution to the subject today is to force your poor, abused characters to make impossible decisions.

Let’s take a simple one—one that everyone has heard before, and most people have faced.

“Honey, does this dress make me look fat?”

All the men just flinched, and all of the women just wondered if what they are wearing makes them look fat. I’m in sweats, I’m rocking the frump at the moment.

Seriously, this is a simple example, but an effective one. Does the poor guy (we’re going with traditional roles right now, so I’m calling the questioned a guy) tell the truth? Or say what she wants to hear? But if the dress doesn’t look great on her, but he can tell she likes it, and he says it does, and then someone else spills the beans…what will happen? The poor guy shudders at the thought. He knows he will be punished.

BUT, if he tells the truth, how angry is she going to be that he in any way agreed with her assessment that she is fat? More punishment, for sure.

This is an impossible question. An impossible circumstance. One the character can’t get out of.

I just watched a great episode of Dr. Who in which the Doctor has to decide between saving a planet and killing 20,000 people, or letting the 20,000 people live only to be killed by aliens later, along with the rest of the planet. Probably.

This is NOT a decision I would want to make. It’s not a decision he wants to make. But he has to. He must. He is the only one who can do anything at all to help, even though neither outcome is agreeable.

These are the kinds of circumstances that you need to put your characters in to. Make them choose between two evils, or to good things, or between lives of people they know. You can stay shallow with this—lies and intrigues, or go deep and put lives or people’s entire happiness on the line.

Don’t let them off easy.

Go forth and #BeMeanToCharacters!

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