See the chicks? Aren’t they cute??? My dad pointed them out to us and I took a quick picture. I have lots more living in nests over the lights in my barn. And every day, spring through summer, when I go to the barn, the moms dive bomb me.
I WAS THERE FIRST!!
I’ve explained this to them, but still, they screech at me and dive so close I’ve felt feathers against my head. They dive straight at me, turn at the last moment, then zoom past and circle back around. And go again. And again. Until I’m in the barn and sheltered from further attacks.
Attack birds. Who’d have thought?
I find it fascinating that these tiny birds have the courage to attack me. They are tiny, small enough for me to close my hand around (I occasionally have to fish fledglings out of water buckets. They just float there until I rescue them, then flap off). These tiny little creatures are willing to attack, what is to them, a giant in order to protect their chicks.
It got me to thinking. Those birds risk their lives for their chicks. What would my characters risk their lives for? What do they want more than anything? And where would they draw the line to get their dreams?
What would make her stand in front of a giant and say “I won’t let you take another step forward!” even if she can’t do a thing?
I’m going with a new classic on this one. Frozen. Let it go, let it gooooo!
And now that the most epic song ever is now playing in your head, let’s dive in. Spoiler alert!
Princess Anna loves her sister. They have some issues and secrets, but when it comes down to it, Anna truly loves Elsa. So much so, she’s willing to ride off into a snowstorm (in a sleeveless ball gown, I might add) after her. Partner with a rough ice man. Take on wolves, a snow monster, and crazy trolls. In the end, she even gives up her own life for her sister. The entire movie is driven by Anna’s love for Elsa. She wants them to be true sisters again, and in the end, because she never gave up on her dream, she was able to live it.
And then there are times when a character’s dreams come at a price, one too high to pay. They find out in the course of their stories, there actually is something more important to them than their dreams.
Let’s talk Wicked. The play, not the book. Highly recommend it if you’ve never seen it. Turns out, The Wizard of Oz is the government cover-up of what really happened.
Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch of the West) was born with green skin and it teased and ostracized because of it. She wants more than anything to meet the wizard of Oz so she can be accepted by her family and by the Ozians. She gets her chance: he invites her to meet him and asks her to join his team. If she does, all her dreams will come true. But it comes at a price and she has to make the choice to live by her principles or achieve her dreams and lose part of herself. Catch the show to see how it turns out!
Jane Eyre is also a great example of this. The poor, lonely governess falls in love with a wealthy man and he falls head over heels for her. Right when she is about to live happily ever after, she learns a horrible secret, one that changes everything. Her dreams are still within her grasp, if only she would compromise the principles which define her. The fact that she holds to her principles makes her an extremely strong and admirable protagonist.
So what is it that drives your character? What would he risk his life for? His kids, spouse, job? A son who would do anything for his mother, a daughter who would do anything to be accepted with the popular kids. Maybe your character would walk through fire to preserve her good name, or maybe to get back a family heirloom.
And just to what point would your character go? Let’s be really mean. If a mother would die for her son, would she kill for him? If a woman is willing to work sixteen hours a day to get a promotion, will she cheat for it? Betray a friend? Break a law or go against a fundamental principle? And think about the consequences of each choice your character can make. If Jane in Jane Eyre compromised her principles, she would live as a rich woman with the man she loved…but would be unable to respect herself, which would eventually destroy her. If she held fast, she couldn’t be with the one she loved and would end up homeless. Major consequences.
In a side note, I think this is one way you can separate good guys from bad ones. Bad guys are willing to go to any length to get what they want; good guys have a point they won’t go past. Whether it’s murder, betraying the government, stealing, adultery, or just a basic belief in right and wrong, good guys say no when a bad guy would say yes. Simplistic, but often true.
So think about what drives your character. It doesn’t even have to be a main focus of your book, but it’s good to keep in mind while writing. Luck to you!