Elizabeth: What do you stand for?

img_1219If 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?

9 thoughts on “Elizabeth: What do you stand for?

  1. I wrote the first draft of my WIP, Girl’s Best Friend, thinking it was just a light-hearted romance, but it turned out to be about loyalty and what we owe people who have done kind and generous things for us when they move in behaviors we can’t condone. It’s always interesting to see what bubbles up as we’re writing.

    • Jeanne – you’re right, it is interesting when you think a story is one thing, but then afterwards something else stands out. Guess that’s why it makes more sense to write first and then go back and see what your “theme” is second.

  2. Terry Pratchett, mostly through his character Sam Vimes, repeatedly comes back to the problem of being “forced” to do something that goes against your principles. In “Thud!” he writes “And if you did it for a good reason, you’d do it for a bad one. You couldn’t say “We’re the good guys” and do bad-guy things.” He’s Pratchett, so of course he does a wonderful job showing how tempting the lure of “just this once” is.

  3. I think all of my characters are undergoing a drastic change in their core beliefs, in one way or the other. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to write them. I’m afraid to write too much about it because it might take all the juice out when it’s time to actually write them. One big change that many of my protags go through is going from thinking they are relatively powerless to realizing that they have power to change things. That if they act, they make a difference. So, “I’m just a poor girl, struggling to make it in New York” to “I am a channel for magic, and I have the power to help other people and change the world.” (Bunny Blavatsky)

    LOL, in the fantasy category, it’s pretty easy to highlight the change. The reader can see how the character goes and learns and grows by the pyrotechnics that come out of his/her wand/fingertips/ass. (I would love to see a magical system powered by farts. I’m not sure I’m the one to write it, but I think it would tickle a lot of funnybones in the universe. Look at the popularity of Nyan-cat.)

    • I know what you mean about “taking all the juice out” if you write to much about your writing in progress. It’s a concern. Sounds like you have a good handle on Bunny Blavatsky’s change. Can’t wait to actually be able to read that story .

      • (-: It’s really too cold to work on Jack and Olivia at summer camp. You’d think a Really Good Writer would leap at the chance for a free mind vacation in upstate New York, but I just can’t get too far into it when I’m sipping hot tea and huddling under my blanket. Bunny’s story is set in New York in February, so it would match my environment. I’ve been thinking all week that I should re-read what I’ve got, and work on that a bit. As I remember, the opening scene at the opera house was pretty decent. Gotta stop thinking and start writing.

        • “Stop thinking and start wiring” sounds like a great plan. I should put that on a post-it and stick it on the wall so I don’t forget.

          I completely understand the difficulty of mentally heading off to summer camp when you’re cuddled up in your blanket. Revisiting Bunny seems like the perfect answer.

          Good luck.

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