Posted by: Kathleen Mix | August 27, 2013

Tough Love

As an author, I create fictional characters I like. I want them to have good experiences and happy lives, just as I wish the best for real people I know and love. Yet in fiction, I must make characters’ lives difficult and give them big problems that lead to interesting and meaningful stories.
Most good stories involve an ordinary protagonist facing extraordinary circumstances or an extraordinary protagonist dealing with challenges limited only by the author’s imagination. The best stories let readers have exciting adventures vicariously, through the experiences of characters they admire, while demonstrating it’s possible to cope with adversity and grow in the process.
Fictional characters experience growth through coping with challenges. So a writer’s job is to create situations that help characters change. We must be hard on them, make them face misfortunes like the loss of a job or the loss of someone they love. We might make them the victim of a crime where they are injured or their child is kidnapped, not because we enjoy hurting them, but because we must. We force them to deal with a series of big or small conflicts, force them to question their values and beliefs. They overcome all obstacles, and by the end of the book, they’ve conquered their enemies, succeeded in their quest, found love or happiness, and reached a higher level of knowledge and maturity.
In my personal life, I’ve learned adversity makes us stronger. Over the years, I’ve been caught in vicious storms on a sailboat hundreds of miles from land. Sailing on the ocean, there is no way out. You don’t know how long the storm will last or if the wind and wave conditions will get worse. Panic isn’t an option. So you do what must be done to stay safe and keep your boat moving toward a secure port.
Under extreme conditions, I’ve learned a lot about who I am and found I could face more adversity than I would have believed.
Finding our inner courage and emerging victorious makes all of us better people, and fictional people are no exception.
I consider the challenges I give my protagonists a form of tough love. If my characters could talk, they might thank me. But probably not. We usually don’t enjoy the experiences that test our mettle.
Sometimes, parents must use tough love to teach children important lessons. My characters need to grow and earn their happy endings. So as the author who gave them life, I practice tough love too.

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