“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater. […] Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.”
― Veronica Roth, Allegiant
Think about your favorite book. What does the protagonist want? In the end, does he/she get it? That question and answer give you the basic plot.
Now, here’s a deeper question: What does trying to achieve his/her goal cost the protagonist? The answer to that question is what makes the story and/or character interesting. In my opinion, the cost is essential to the protagonist’s growth.
Consider The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Edmond wants to be a king, but by siding with the White Witch, he sacrifices his freedom, his family’s trust, and – without Aslan’s intervention – his life.
Now let’s think about The Hunger Games. Katniss is willing to do anything to protect her sister. When Katniss takes Prim’s place in the games, she sacrifices her own safety to achieve her goal. Once Katniss is in the games, her goal becomes to survive. Surviving the games costs her what little childhood innocence she has left, friendships, and her peace of mind.
By the end of the books, both Edmond and Katniss are changed. Regardless of whether or not they succeeded, they have to live with the consequences of what they did.
Your writing challenge for the next two weeks is to:
- Choose a protagonist you have already created.
- Ask yourself what your character wants.
- Decide what he/she loses or willingly sacrifices while attempting to achieve his/her goal.
- Write the scene where your protagonist either chooses to pay the price or realizes what he/she will lose even if he/she is not willing to lose it.
- Does he/she feel like the cost was worth it? (I do not think this necessarily needs to be included in a book, but I as the author like to know.)
In “The Four Crystals,” the novel I’m currently editing, having each character risk, lose, or willingly sacrifice something of value has raised the stakes and made the characters’ motivation stronger. It’s also required a lot more editing than I ever imagined having to put into the novel. (In-depth editing is the cost of writing a novel worthy of publication.)