Does anybody still watch or remember the game show “The Weakest Link?” Anne Robinson (the original UK host) was so COLD. She was brilliant, honestly.
“You are… the weakest link. Goodbye.”
And then moves right on to the next round without so much as a “Nice try, better luck next time.”
She also guest starred in an episode of Doctor Who in the first season (new style). Hilarious! But was Anne Droid there. Ha! Get it? I love Doctor Who.
Anyways… it got me thinking about our own weakest link. And that of our characters. If our characters have one weak link, what is it? What does your character fear the most? What is the worst thing that could happen to them?
And the next logical question is… how can you make it happen?
Everyone has a weak link.
In order to drive the story forward, we have to know our characters’ innermost personality and find what makes them tick. Do they have a fear of abandonment? Death? The death of their loved ones? Loss of money? Failure?
We see these qualities in ourselves all the time. What makes great fiction, and often the most desperate, is exploitation of a character’s most intense fears. That keeps pace, tension, plot, voice, and all the other aspects of story moving forward.
Some examples, you ask of me? Why sure!
I’ll take them from some recent examples of books I’ve read.
- The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick – I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I’ll just say that Hugo’s biggest fear is being found out. Of having his father’s most prized possession taken away. And it happens. Which is one of the points in the story where I couldn’t put the book down. I just HAD to know what would happen next. Do we HAVE to know what Hugo had for breakfast that day? Or what his favorite color is? Unless it’s uber crucial to the story, the answer is no.
- Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire – While I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I’d hoped, it is pretty obvious from the get-go that Elena’s biggest fear is being torn from her family. Which happens. And that is where Elena’s mettle is tested. Where she grows and learns and understands the world in a more mature and comprehensive way.
- Let’s go classic. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. (SPOILERS!) – Harry was an orphan, so his deepest desire is to find family. What is one of his deepest fears? Losing any portion of a family he gains. Whether it’s a family of friends or real family. And what does the lovely and brilliant Ms. Rowling do? Takes away a sizable chunk of Harry’s version of family. Remus, Tonks, Mad-Eye, Fred, Dumbledore, Siruis, even Snape! (Who, let’s face it, acted like a bitter old uncle to Harry). When Harry’s worst fears are realized is when we see him become more of the person he was destined to be.
So although it pains us as writers to be so cruel to our characters, sometimes that’s what needs to happen. Be brave, dear writers, and unearth your characters’ deepest seated fears. There you will find your characters as they truly are.
There you have it! I’m sure if you think about many of the books you’ve read lately, you’ll see that a good portion of the characters are put through their version of H-E-double hockey sticks and that’s where the story really takes off.
Thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree? I’ll probably write another post about character desires, but this is a crucial topic, I think.
“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”
― George R.R. Martin,
“Fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up”
― Veronica Roth,
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that
something else is more important than fear.”
― Ambrose Redmoon