The Worst Thing

The surest way I have ever found to get myself out of writer’s block is to ask, “What is the absolute worst thing you can do to your character?”  Bujold put me on to the idea and I love her for it. Find the one thing that would really disturb the character and do it. This tends to work in two ways.

  1. You really have to get to know their motivations to answer that question, and
  2. They start to do all sorts of interesting things to avoid it.

One of my favourite characters that I have ever written was born from just this process. The world I was writing was based very strongly on survival of the fittest. So what if they met someone who was surviving quite well but was in a wheel chair? How would they cope?

To my considerable surprise, the main character fell head over heels in love with her. Who knew he had it in him? As I typed, I could see it unfold and really threw me. No one reacted the way I thought they would. I really got to know them in a whole new way and the characters became a lot more real. Just like us, facing adversity really made them grow as people and gave them substance.

            One of my favourite movies is Soapdish. A line in that movie goes something like, “I’m normal, who wants to watch me on TV?” While characters can be normal people, they should always be given something extraordinary to overcome, losing the farm, finding their father’s murderer, finding the ‘Forgotten Crystal of Doom’, whatever the genre, giving them something to battle makes them interesting. And what should they battle? Well ask yourself – what is the worst thing that can happen to them? And see what happens.


2 responses to “The Worst Thing

  1. This is very good advice. Tossing the old monkey wrench into the mix and see what happens. I killed a character once. It’s like in nature: suddenly there’s a vacancy in the system and the other characters adapt to fill it. New villains emerge as well as new heros who (up to that point) didn’t have it in them. And if you don’t like the result, you can always delete the scene.

  2. You have it exactly right, write first, edit later.

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