Last night I attended a fundraising event for an anti-trafficking group, Women at Risk International. NYT Bestselling author, Donald Miller, was the keynote speaker.
At the beginning of his presentation he introduced himself as a storyteller. Throughout the rest of his address he spoke in story and writing terms. He talked about “protagonists,” “good turns,” “bad turns,” and used other storytelling phrases. Something he said in passing got the cogs in my head turning. I was not taking notes, so this is not a direct quote. But he said something along the lines of:
Happiness isn’t a very good story. When you’re writing a story you need to make sure your protagonist is walking into fear. Then, once they’ve faced the fear, you’ll have joy, which is a much better way to end a story than just happiness.
That phrase, “walking into fear,” really popped out at me. I immediately thought of Luke Skywalker walking into the cave on Dagobah. Then I started thinking about the goblin project and the short stories I’ve been working on lately. Are my protagonists walking into fear? If they’re not, should they be?
I’m just starting to write a new scene for the goblin project that takes my protagonist and his companions on a life-threatening mini-adventure right in the middle of their quest. I was planning to use it as a time to not only grow the characters, but also to reveal some new information about the mysterious place they are headed. Now I’m thinking it might also be a good time to put a little fear into their hearts.
I don’t think I’ve made the quest scary enough. My protagonist is dogged about where he’s going and what he’s doing. He’s on a mission to save the other goblins that live on the mountain. Period. I’ve written him to be a brave, relentless hero. I’ve inserted a little bit of self-doubt, and I’ve had one of his companions question the legitimacy of the quest, but I don’t think I’ve actually made my protagonist fearful of where they’re going.
My thanks goes out to Donald Miller for getting me to think this way. A comment he made in passing during an address that wasn’t specifically about writing will (hopefully) help me to craft much stronger stories.