One of the most important jobs we have as writers is to always push the story forward, forcing our protagonist to act. This isn’t always easy.
Characters, like people, fight change and personal growth because it makes them feel vulnerable and can be emotionally painful. The fact is, it’s always easier to stay cocooned in the safety zone, to keep the status quo, avoiding change. When a character simply plods along, they don’t have to make hard decisions or choices that carry risk, they don’t have to go out on a limb and ACT.
The problem with doing nothing is that the character becomes stuck, never reaching out to their destiny, never truly becoming the person they were meant to be by letting go of the past and the fears that chain them.
Change is necessary for a successful character arc. Change is how our characters become stronger, more capable and confident. It’s what sparks the ability to chase after their goals, find happiness and achieve satisfaction. It’s how a character goes from being incomplete to whole.
When characters are being stubborn about change, it’s time to pull out the big guns. Using specific Pressure Points we can force them to act, opening the door to inner growth. You can’t hide from a pressure point, and that’s the beauty of incorporating them into your story. Good or bad, a character must act and in doing so, reveal who they truly are, both to readers and to themselves.
Let’s look at some pressure points:
Dangling something your character covets in front of them and then showing the inner struggle as they either accept or reject the offering is not just a way to develop the plot. Temptation will create a window into their inner strength (or weakness), shows cognitive reasoning, and reveals their values and moral beliefs. Will the character give in? Does this situation cause their moral ground to tremble? Does it show their thought process as they vacillate between giving in and staying strong? Temptation should always pressure a character and show the war going on inside them as they reach a decision.
Throwing a big challenge your character’s way, especially when it comes with high stakes, can force them to think on their feet and marshal their strengths so that their best qualities rise up. Succeed or fail, how a character behaves under pressure will say a lot about who they are at their core.
Based on the outcome of a challenge, success or failure will create a second pressure point. If successful, confidence will swell and the euphoria rush often prods them to take on further challenges as they realize they were stronger and more capable than they previously believed. If they fail, it forces reflection, bringing their shortcoming and flaws to light as well as the realization that they must change or adapt in some way to see a better outcome.
This pressure point is another valuable contributor to both story and character development. Any character who fails (either themselves or others) will see stakes in a new light moving forward and the challenge becomes personal. To avoid another negative outcome, their passion and determination flares as they seek to prove that they are up to the task, and therefore worthy. This desire for achievement opens them to changing in ways that will help them tackle a problem or crisis from a place of strength.
Do you use these or other pressure points to push your hero to evolve, hitting the high notes of Character Arc? Let me know in the comments!
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Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker and co-author of several bestselling writing books, including The Emotion Thesaurus. She loves building communities and her newest project, One Stop For Writers, is a powerhouse online library like no other, filled with description and brainstorming tools to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and at her website, Writers Helping Writers.
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Perfect timing for me, Angela - thanks for this. I've been foundering. Challenges! That'll wake up that protag!!!
Perfect! I love it when the right thing comes along at the right time! Thanks for having me here today 🙂
[…] also at Writers In The Storm talking about Story Pressure Points and How They Reveal Character. Hope to see you […]
Very useful . Thank you.
Thanks for visiting!
This is such a great road map, Angela--terrific suggestions. Thank you so much.
So glad it helps!
Temptation. That's my easy go-to tactic. Your description of redemption has me thinking. Thanks for the creative jolt! Chris
Glad this sparked a new idea, Chris!
This helps me a lot. Thank you Angela.
Happy to help!
Great post. Actually, the same could be said for how we live our real lives.
For sure. There is so much crossover between fiction and real life. The more we draw of real human psychology into fiction the more authentic the story feels to readers.
Your tips inspired me to tempt one of my secondary characters who has a weak story line right now. I'm going to print this out and post it on my writing wall as I work through revisions. Thank you!
That is great! So glad this will help you better layer your secondary character!
Okay, I just approved a BUNCH of comments. I don't know what was up with everyone hanging out in "pending" this morning.
Great post, Angela!!
No worries--I was moving my brother all day today and just got home 🙂
Great suggestions. I'm revising the middle of my YA (why is the middle so cursed hard?) and was actually just working on a scene where my heroine is getting pressured into doing something that scares the heck out of her. You've give me an idea of how to do it differently!
That's great, Wendy! I hope this adds a bit more dimension to the story. 🙂 Happy revising.
The fictional world is a mirror of the real world. Only difference? After all those struggles, we can give our characters a happy ending--something we don't always get in real life.
Too true, Linda. But the struggle is compelling to read about and the happily ever after is what we're all striving for, so it is nice to see the character achieve what we hope to in just a few hundred pages.
I shared this on Twitter, Facebook and with a friend via email I am going to save it for reference. I have a book I need to edit and one I'm toddling along reworking from July. I can use these to make the books stronger. Thanks for sharing.
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
We're happy to see you here, Jennifer! Thanks for the comment. 🙂
Thanks for stopping in Jennifer--have a great weekend. 🙂
Thanks for sharing, C.K. Very glad this will help you with your edit!
Great post. I've thrown a lot of pressure at the characters in my current book and have been struggling with the ending. This was a good reminder to focus on how all that pressure has shaped them.
So glad it helps, Maria!
I'm late to the party but really happy I finally had time to read this post. I'm in the early stages of a new project and your post gave me an "ouuuu" moment for one of the secondary characters. Love it when that happens. 🙂 Thanks for another great post, Angela!
[…] your plot is chugging like a car running on cheap gas, it might be time to utilize a pressure point. There’s nothing like a temptation, a challenge, or an opportunity for redemption to push the […]
[…] of yarn ends that we don’t know how to unravel. Storytelling provides a unique window into how someone else works through the challenges that the universe throws their […]