As a good parent, you want what’s best for your children. You want to help when you can, wipe their tears, and make their road through life as easy as possible. As the creator of your characters, this type of treatment makes for extremely boring literature. The more problems and chaos and rain you can throw at your characters, the better! As Stephen King puts it, throw characters into a difficult situation and watch them squirm out of it.
In Genesis, chapter seven, time has run out for Noah. The animals have arrived, two-by-two, and God has shut them in the ark. (verse 16) “And God opened the windows of heaven and broke the fountains of the great deep” (verse 11) flooding the Earth for forty days and forty nights before the storm subsided. God kept his word providing safekeeping for Noah, his family, and the animals, and death for every living thing outside of the ark.
As a reader, we feel satisfied. A flood was predicted. A flood came.
Was it easy for Noah? No way. Regardless of the ridicule and torment prior to the flood, that first drop of rain fell as his confirmation letter from heaven. The people knew. His family knew. Noah knew. Imagine the cries of those outside the ark, pounding their fists against the gopher wood, staring through the air slats, grappling with the winds and waves, begging for forgiveness and entrance.
It would have been easy for God to say, “Okay. You learned your lesson. Everybody, out of the boat. I’m turning off the faucet.”
But then what?
We would have been left with an unfinished story. No lesson would have been learned. No true repentance can come when a decision is based in fear.
As your story ‘god’ you cannot make it easy for your characters when they are facing the consequences of their choices. You can’t reach down and scoop them up as the floods come. No, quite the contrary. You must raise the flood water so high that the mountaintops are covered, leaving your characters riding the swells, praying they’ll make it out alive. You cannot lower the stakes. That’s where the story is! That’s where your character’s true colors show, just like in real life. You must make it rain.
In the Wizard of Oz, Glenda visits Dorothy in Munchkinland. What if she had flown her to the Emerald City and the Wizard had sent her home immediately? Better still, what if she had clicked her heels together three times the moment she stepped into the ruby slippers? Dorothy would have just gone back home to her same disappointments and troubles. She wouldn’t have learned any lessons. But having her face the Wicked Witch of the West, help her new friends grow, watch her only ride float away without her, all the while thinking Auntie Em had died or given up hope, Dorothy’s heart changes. She regrets running away and wanting to leave home. She realizes that if it isn’t in her own backyard then she didn’t need it to begin with. The repentant heart. A changed spirit. After all, there’s no place like home.
Have you rescued your hero instead of letting him face the consequences of his choices? Have you made it too easy for her to succeed? Where can you make it rain? What crutch could you take away that would raise the floodwaters? Let the hero have the opportunity to rescue the day, but not until after she slays a dragon or two.
(This is an excerpt from Writing Your Novel, Using the Bible as Your Guide, published by A Writer For Life, LLC, which you can purchase from Amazon Kindle. For assistance with writing, editing, publishing and marketing your book, visit http://www.awriterforlife.com.)