Monday, November 24, 2008

Beulah at the Arch-Off

This week's No, Seriously. Just Try It is about choices and endings.

A few weeks ago, I asked you to make me care about what your main character wants. Okay, so now I care. But I have another question: what does she have to give up to get it?

You've made it hard on her. You've created obstacles, dropped her into difficult situations, put a really evil Grob on her tail. Now I want you to make it even harder. I want her last obstacle to be herself. Right as your character's story is about to wrap up, I want you to give her a choice, a Sophie's choice, an impossible, either way she chooses she has to lose something that can never be replaced choice. And then I want you to let your main character write your ending.

Here's the trick: the choice has to be set up so that we readers cannot possibly know which way she will choose until the moment she does. And then, whatever she chooses has to not only make sense for her character, but also fill us with a "Yes! That's what I was hoping!" flood of satisfaction.

Okay, what am I talking about? Say your character, Beulah, loves archery.* She's an expert archer, but she's never won the local archery championship; she comes in second every year to snobby Gilda McGhee. This year, the last year she's eligible, there's a cash prize that Beulah's family desperately needs. She's been training and training, practicing every morning early. The day of the big arch-off arrives. The competitors are preparing their bags of arrows.** Gilda McGhee is called over to the judge's desk to talk with the local media. She leaves her stuff unattended. Beulah is double checking her equipment when she trips and falls onto Gilda's bag. She dents, ever so slightly, Gilda's three favorite shooting arrows.

Most likely nobody will notice. Most likely the bend in the arrows will send them just a bit off course. Like just enough to overcome the tiny lead Gilda always has over Beulah. If she says something, she risks disqualification, but at least it would be a fair match. If she says nothing, it's cheating. She might win even without cheating, but she might come in second again. Her family needs the money. But she thinks her grandmother, whom she adores and whose respect and love she values highly, saw her hit the bag and would know what happened. Under normal circumstances, Beulah would never cheat. But you've thrown her into a place where "normal" doesn't apply. What does Beulah decide?

So, what is the choice your character faces just as her journey's about to end? How does she decide? And what does she have to lose?

No, seriously. Try it. And report back; I want to hear what she decides.



* about which it will soon become apparent I know nothing
** quills? skewers?

10 comments:

C.R. Evers said...

ohhhhhh! this is a tough one! Good food for thought.

Christy

Diane T said...

In case you were wondering, the "bag of arrows" is called a "quiver." One of those nice "Q" words that I don't get to use as often as I'd like, but there's no call for Robin Hood in my neck of suburbia.

And good idea, btw.

Elise Murphy said...

Excellent! Today is an outlining day so this is a perfect task to undertake.

Jacqui said...

Quiver! That's the word I couldn't find! Quill. Duh.

Elise and Christy, have fun torturing your MCs.

Brenda said...

I'm getting close to the end of my NaNo novel so this might just help me get that darn word count...I can write the ending two ways and see which way my MC's heart really will take her...

Thanks for the idea! I was starting to slow down with NaNo beause I wasn't sure how I wanted to end the story...now I have two ways...grin...

Vijaya said...

Good one, Jacqui.

Vijaya said...

I also meant to add that when a character has to choose between two values ... it is the most gut-wrenching ...

Liza Martz - Cogitations and Codswallop said...

Aha, are you talking about the elusive surprising-surprise? I have been working on mine and it's not easy coming up with one that really, truly could go either way and not seem contrived. But...


I think I may have it!

Jacqui said...

Brenda, I hope you found two great endings. Good luck in the NaNo home stretch!

Vijaya, I totally agree. I am fascinated lately with the idea of two conflicting "I would never" values.

Liza, yay! Here's hoping you've captured the elusive S'ing-S.

J. Thorp said...

Arch-Off = International Back-Bend Championships?

(Oh, man, I need some time off.)