Worries Fears Hopes

I've devised a simple, direct method for helping you find out what's going on inside the character. With this technique, you go through your story and ask, every place it could possibly apply, "What are the character's worries, fears, and hopes?" There should be plenty of places where emotions are kicking up—on every page and in every scene. Stories are about conflict, about threat. If something of great value to you is truly threatened, you have to be worried and fearful that you will lose it while at the same time hopeful that you will be able to save it. These worries, fears, and hopes will be running through your mind until the problem is resolved.

If your boss calls you in and says that if you don't improve your work, he'll have to let you go, you're worried and afraid you'll get fired, but hoping that you can work overtime for a while and save your job. Romeo wants Juliet, but he is worried and frightened that their marriage will be discovered and he'll lose her before they can escape. He hopes, with all his heart, that they will succeed and be united. In the parking lot stickup, you would be afraid you'll be killed, but hoping that you'll come out of it alive. If the character isn't worried and afraid, you don't have a dramatic conflict, and your story will flop. If your character doesn't care, the reader won't care. The reader cannot care more than the character.

Fantasies are a kind of hope and can be especially revealing of the character. Some characters have elaborate fantasies, while others have few. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber is a classic story of someone who lives in fantasy. It's a famous story. If you haven't read it, you should. We all indulge in fantasies. Thinking about what we'd do if we won the lottery is probably one of the most common. In the case of someone whose job is threatened by an abusive, fault-finding boss, the character could dream of what he'd do if his rotten boss worked for him.

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