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Archive for March, 2019

“What do you want to happen?” That’s what my wife asked me Thursday afternoon. We were discussing a rather important plot point in my latest work-in-progress, “The Witch and the Devourer of Souls” (a sequel to “The Witch of White Lady Hollow” which is coming this December). A lot of things hang on which way this particular plot point goes. (And no, I DON’T have the book all plotted out—that doesn’t work for me.) I’d been stewing about this point for more than a day. So, Cindy and I were discussing it on the phone as I was driving into Salt Lake City for Tabernacle Choir rehearsal. (Yes, we discuss HORROR as I prepare for Choir. It works for me.)

I thought for a moment, but just a moment, and then I said, “That’s not the right question.”

“What’s the right question?”

“It’s not important what I want to happen. What’s important is what would happen. What would the characters really do? I mean, in real life?”

THAT is one of the reasons why I cannot plot out my novels—because if I force a character to do something that is, well, out-of-character, the story NEVER works. It isn’t honest.

So, Cindy and I discussed the plot point further, and in the process of talking things out with my favorite (and loveliest) sounding board, it came to me. I realized exactly what the character would do, whether or not it served my immediate story needs. And it worked. It actually made the story better.

Because I let the character be himself. Or herself.

Notice I didn’t say I let the character do the right thing. Not everything a character, even a protagonist, does is good and right. Human beings don’t always do the right thing. I don’t always do the right thing. I try, most of the time, to be a decent person, but I, like everyone else who has walked the earth (except for Jesus Christ), fall short. People have flaws. People has quirks. People are selfish and selfless. We are brave and cowardly. We are petty and noble. And all at the same time.

We are human.

The great adventure of being human is to strive to overcome our faults, to strive to better ourselves, to rise above the dirt and the filth. And even more important than bettering ourselves, we need to help lift our fellow travelers on the road to eternity.

But lifting is not forcing. I can’t force my characters to be good or to do the right thing. If I do that, the story doesn’t work. Ever. That would make me a bad writer and a dishonest storyteller.

And in real life, trying to force someone else to be good or to do the right thing is, well, Satanic. That was Lucifer’s plan. Forcing others to be good doesn’t make them good. And worse, it makes the one doing the forcing evil.

Heavenly Father’s plan is the opposite. He teaches us, He leads us, He may even chastise us along the way, but He lets us fail. He lets us fall. He lets us hurt ourselves and those around us. Because He will not force us to be good. But when we are ready to pull ourselves out of the muck, He sends His Son to help us, to cleanse us. But He will never force us to be something we are not. He will only help us to become who we want to be. He gives us situations, circumstances, trials, difficulties, and fellow-travelers that can help us to grow and to become. But He will never force us.

I want my characters to grow, to progress, to learn, to become better. But I can never force them to do that. It just doesn’t work.

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