If you’ve been paying attention to American politics recently, you’ll have noticed that there are a lot of people taking a hard look at what they stand for, what they believe in, and what they are willing to do in support of those beliefs.
People who have never participated in a march have marched. People who have never called their elected representatives have made calls. People who may have thought of politics as something that just sort of happens have started to realize that it’s a participatory process.
All good things.
Deciding what you stand for has its challenges, especially if what you stand for is in opposition to what someone else believes. Even if you believe the same thing as someone else, you may have different or possibly conflicting ideas about how those beliefs should be addressed.
So what does all this have to do with writing?
The potential for crunchy conflict between characters with opposing beliefs is endless as are the variety of stories that could be told both from an “opposite side of the issue” as well as a “fighting for a common belief” perspective. Challenging a character’s beliefs and/or putting them in a situation where they need to take a stand (or decide what they stand for) can provide depth and tension in a story, as well as serving as a vehicle for character growth/arc.
In my Regency story, The Traitor, my hero Michael believes that his role in society is as a protector. Off in battle, he protects his country and his regiment. At home, he protects his family. He stands for right over wrong, making the moral / ethical choice, and putting the needs of others of his own. He believes that, given the chance, people will choose to do the right thing, even if it is at their own expense. He is equal parts altruistic and untested.
His crisis comes when he finds himself forced to choose between two possible outcomes – both of which are in direct conflict with what he stands for – and the direction of his narrative is dependent upon how he reacts when his belief system is turned on its head.
The antagonist of the story has a very different belief system, as does my heroine, and the result is a group of characters in conflict and story tension.
All good things.
As I take a second look at this story, which I initially saw as “community” themed, I’m starting to think it is more about characters taking a stand for what they believe in. Mentally reframing the story this way has triggered some new ideas and has me dusting off the manuscript that I was sure I was over and done with.
So what about your characters? Have they had their belief systems challenged recently? If not, do you have any reading suggestions for books where characters have been fighting for what they believe in or where they have had to make a choice that was contrary to their beliefs?