Updated: Dec 10, 2022
I think it is fair to say— and I believe most people would agree with me— that life feels like a series of battles sometimes. I made that comment to a friend the other day as we shared some of the challenges we were each facing. The more I’ve thought about it since, the more I see it to be true. I don’t mean to draw the conclusion that life is not worth the battles or skirmishes, because there is a balance. To stay within the analogy, there are also times of R and R. But the challenges or battles of life sometimes seem to attach themselves to us from sun up to sun down.
I am learning how to write stories. Occasionally I sign on for one of the on-line courses that some of the writing sites offer. One recently dealt with the importance of creating conflict in a story right from the beginning. The presenter (James Scott Bell) said, “A best-selling novel is a story of how the main character fights with death through strength of will.” Death could mean physical, emotional, psychological, or even moral. A good story is a description of a life-and-death battle where the outcome is uncertain.
Authors have to define that battle with words. As I have thought about it (and while currently editing one of my youth novels) I began to organize my writing of the ongoing battle of the main character (MC) in two ways: its nature and manner. By nature of the battle I mean its origin and its severity. The battle needs to be directly tied to the life —or possible death—of the MC. It is his/her battle to fight— to win or to lose. Its origin must be tied to the MC’s very reason for existing. It must attack that part of his or her life or character that is held the most sacred or dear. It must be worth defending. And because of its relationship to the MC and the lengths it will take to survive or win, it must require sacrifice. The MC must sacrifice something of him or her self. And it must hurt. While in writing, all of this must be introduced within the first few pages. That’s true even in picture books. The MC has to be willing to die in the attempt to achieve victory, to defeat the antagonist.
By manner of the battle I mean how the MC confronts that challenge. Does he confront it alone or seek out some allies along the way? What are his weapons— ingenuity, stealth, armor, magic, sheer will, etc.? In other words, what is his inventory of resources? Does he have to sacrifice something in hopes of finding a better advantage later on? Does he, perhaps, have to acknowledge failure first and regroup? How much will be required in order to ultimately overcome?
So, through all of this, what qualities are needed to come out the victor in these life battles? Persistence and determination, certainly. Calvin Coolidge wrote, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” My MC can have all three of the above, but it will be his or her persistent determination that brings victory, as well as keep the reader turning the pages to the end. Think of any movie or story and see if that isn’t true. Think of your own life and conflicts you've faced. Pretty much true to life, I think.
It’s time to get back to editing. I don’t think my MC has sacrificed enough to deserve his victory.