Saturday, March 26, 2011

Exercise 2: Your own worst enemy

Your Own Worst Enemy:

My writing exercise for today has to do with internal conflict – specifically, what does your character do to him/herself that keeps the character from getting what he/she wants. What flaws does your character have that keeps him/her exciting to the reader.

For example, Harry Potter’s life would have been much less exciting (which would have been nice for him, even if the books would have been not nearly as fun) if he’d just gone and told Dumbledore what was going on in his life on page 10 of the story, instead of at the end of the story. But Harry is distrustful. He doesn’t always turn to adults or his friends when he has problems. He broods, keeps his mouth shut, breaks rules, and then goes and gets into serious trouble.

In A. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Sherlock is supremely confident in his abilities. Normally this is fine (other than the fact he alienates everyone around him but Watson), but occasionally he trips himself up with it. In A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes is outsmarted by Irene Adler because he underestimates her intelligence. He tricks her, but she tricks him right back and gets away with the photograph he’d been attempting to reclaim from her.

A few more examples of character flaws that drive the plots of many stories:

•Too much curiosity (the babysitter who opens the basement door after hearing a strange sound and AGGHHHGGGGHHHH!!!)

•Inability to commit to what the character wants (characters who can’t quite follow their dreams, or who fall in love but can’t proclaim themselves and drive the object of their love away, like in when Harry freaks out in the movieWhen Harry Met Sally).

•Inability to commit to a course of action (Hamlet is the classic example here)

•Huge blind spots (such as not realizing the one they love is no good for them, or seeing an enemy as a dear, dear friend, or thinking “nah, there’s probably nothing in the basement…)

•Carelessness with own life/friends/happiness (Character who takes unnecessary risks, who take the people who they care about for granted, who can’t keep their mouth shut when it would be better to).

•Thoughtlessness about consequences (characters who think that sleeping with the bridesmaid on the night before their own wedding is an awesome idea). Characters who are late for important appointments (i.e. he’s on the top of the Empire State Building waiting for her, she thought she’d stop off for coffee and then ran into a friend and was two hours late). Characters who let people down.

•Characters who lose faith (The team is assembled. The heist is perfectly planned, then one guy starts to wonder if this is what he wants to do with his life.)

And of course there’s jealousy, low-self esteem, past trauma, anger issues, unrealistic expectations, general ignorance about a situation, desire to be something that one is not, and on and on and on and on and on.

FOR EXTRA CREDIT: Figure out how you (in your real life) are your own worst enemy, resolve your issues, and live happily ever after. Hooray!

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