The Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Did you ever think about doing something then told yourself that you’d never be able to succeed? When it came time to give it a try, how did it go? Did you surprise yourself and accomplish it or did you fail?

Sometimes whether or not we master something depends upon our inner voice. This is called the self-fulfilling prophecy.

We tell ourselves we will fail, and so we do. Then we nod, confirming that we were right.

Or we are determined to succeed at all costs, convince ourselves that we can do it, and when we do, we inflate with pride.

Our characters are affected by this same inner voice. The character wants something so badly that it is a burning desire. But…what does the character’s inner voice say? Does it tell the character that you can’t do it so don’t bother? And so the character lives with the feeling of failure, of unfulfilled desire, for many years.

What if the voice says to do it, you will succeed, so the character gives it a shot? If the character successfully completes the task, how does that affect how the character feels? What if the character does not?

These are things you must consider when telling the story. There is a desire. The character must want something or there is no story. What voice drives the character toward achieving that goal?

Your task is to write a scene in which your protagonist wants something. His self-fulfilling prophecy speaks to him. It either tells him he can do it or it says you’re an idiot. You decide.

Remember that the voice will affect the character’s motivation to test whether or not she can learn to salsa, graduate from chef school, become a CEO or run a scientific laboratory.

Have fun with this one.

Establishing Motive

I recently attended a workshop at a conference in Fort Bragg, California. My leader, James W. Hall, is a published author and college professor of writing.

He reminded me that every character in a story has to want something, and that want is what compels the character to act. Once that want is fulfilled, then the character has to want something new, which now inspires action. And so on.

All too often we forget about this driving force. Without it, our stories go nowhere. Our characters are flat and uninspiring. There is no tension, and without tension, our readers are bored.

Your task is to reread something that you’ve written, but find troubling. You’ve known that something about it isn’t working and have tried rewriting without success.

Examine your characters, both primary and secondary. Protagonist and antagonist. Does each of them want something? Is each challenged to reach their goals? If not, then you need to find a way to fix it.

First, brainstorm a list of possible goals for each character. If you discover a character who exists only to give the protagonist someone to talk to, either eliminate the character or change his importance in the story.

After you’ve created your lists, choose primary goals for each character. Then rewrite, starting at the beginning. Constantly check your work, making sure to stay faithful to your goals.

When you’re finished, reread. Does your story now have tension? Do actions match goals? Are all characters important?

Hopefully this is so.

Have fun with this one.