I make New Year’s resolutions every year. Not many. Usually two or three—things like: read more, walk more, give back more. I usually do well with my resolutions. I don’t make them too big, or too dependent on money. I make what I call “gentle resolutions.” The success I have with them feels good and compels me to make new resolutions each year.
But this post isn’t about my resolutions or yours either; it’s about the writing. More specifically, it’s about our characters and what they’ve resolved to do or not do.
I looked up the word resolution and found the meaning: a firm determination. I believe that it’s the firm determinations of our characters, and the challenges to those determinations, that create the most compelling fiction. For an illustrative example, I offer Pookie, a character from the movie New Jack City. (Spoiler alert) Pookie, played by Chris Rock, is a recovering crack addict working undercover in, of all places, a crack house. IMO, the most well-played, dramatic moment in the film is when Pookie sits sweating and shaking in a dimly lit bedroom “staring down” the crack pipe in front of him. By this time in the movie, I’m rooting for Pookie’s recovery. I’d been with him through the tweeks and pukes and misery of his withdrawal and sighed relief at his proud return to being drug free. And then . . . a break in his resolve challenges his firm determination.
The struggle between his strength and weakness could have landed on the cutting room floor. Mario Van Peebles, the director, could have cut to the scene where Pookie is high as a kite, and the audience would have understood exactly what happened. But witnessing the battle is what brings the emotional investment from the audience. Like me, I’m sure other viewers were shouting “Don’t do it, Pookie!” in their minds. And when his addiction won, I’ll bet most of us were sourly disappointed in him and highly concerned for the success of the undercover operation. In fiction, a character’s struggle with his/her firm determination engages readers in much the same way.
What are your main characters resolved to do or not do? What scene will show them at cross purposes with their own determination? My current WIP is a short story about a doctor (sworn to do no harm) who finds herself faced with the dilemma of having to kill for the greater good. I haven’t gotten to that part yet, so I still don’t know if she’ll go through with it. But I can’t wait to write that scene to find out.
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that in 2011, you find success with all of your firm determinations.