“Get your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them.”
I can’t remember where it originated, although I think it might have been Stephen King. Wherever it came from, this bit of advice is all well and good for characters in a book, but what about those times when you start to feel like some invisible Master Writer has put you up a tree? What about when the rocks feel more like hand grenades, and you start to wonder whether you’re the hero of this piece or are simply cast as “Blonde Girl, First to Die?” What then?
It’s not a comfortable place to be, that’s for sure, but I do know this. If you’re spending an inordinate amount of time wondering whether you’re going to die in this plot, you can stop right now. None of us are getting out of this particular story alive, and that’s a fact. There might be chapters up ahead where we get to have a lot of fun and all kinds of wonderful and pleasant things happen, but eventually – we’re all gonna die.
So the question really becomes this: what sort of character are you going to be? Because here’s where life is different than a novel. You get to choose how you play your role. Will you be active or passive? A fighter or a victim? Somebody who stays in her own tree, or somebody who will take a rock for a friend? If you choose, you can even join the ranks of rock throwers. Maybe you can extend your time on the page by knocking other people down.
You might have noticed that last week we talked a lot about Deb Susan Spann’s intricate mystery, CLAWS OF THE CAT. (If you haven’t bought your copy yet, you should go do that, right now. I’ll wait.) In case you haven’t read it yet, I promise to be careful not to include spoilers. I think it’s safe to tell you that out of the possible characters I’d certainly rather be Hiro the Shinobi than Sayuri the tea house girl, because, well – Hiro is awesome and he’s a Shinobi. Also, he hasn’t been accused of murder and isn’t a prisoner in a teahouse and he gets to use his brains and his Shinobi super skills and save people.
As I was writing this post, though, it came to me that I want to be Katniss Everdeen, hopefully without quite as much trauma as she had to endure. (Random point I can’t help making: Collins literally put Katniss up a tree and threw rocks at her. Fascinating, no?) Anyway – Katniss could so easily become either a victim or a bully, and she does neither. She’s totally self sufficient and competent but she cares about other people and does the right thing, no matter what the consequences.
This, I believe is what the plot is all about – being the best self you can be while you’re still on the page.
If you could choose to be a character in a book – which character would it be and why?
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