Protective Urges

Ronie Kendig has a BS in Psychology and is a wife, mother of four, and avid writer. Her first espionage thriller, Dead Reckoning, released March 01, 2010 through Abingdon Press, and Nightshade, Book #1 in the Discarded Heroes series will release July 01, 2010. Ronie volunteers with ACFW, and she also teaches creative writing at her local homeschool co-op. Visit Ronie at her website or her blog.

After a fabulous date with my husband, we were headed out of the restaurant—through a revolving door. A small girl of maybe five years hopped into the already-in-motion door to be with her friend. I gasped. But she was fine, oblivious to her own predicament. Two seconds later, she hopped back out! Heart in my throat, I froze. Couldn’t move. She’d narrowly missed getting wedged into the door turning the opposite direction, and my vivid imagination couldn’t release her from that fate. Her father joined saw me and smiled. Inside, he said, “Close call.”

We have protective urges—and had I been able to stop the girl, I would’ve. Remember the classic A Christmas Story movie, where the mom bundles up her poor son like the Michelin man and he can’t even put his arms down? A hilarious moment, but how often do we pad our character’s lives? Or step in on our characters when we shouldn’t? For the most part, we don’t want to see others harmed. We want goodness and joy—to see others happy. Some of us have been through more trials than others, and we’d do anything to prevent someone else from knowing that pain.
Fiction, however, is not the place to enact this moral responsibility.

Recently I critiqued a chapter for a friend. The story was enjoyable and the writing very good. Yet something was missing. It took me a while to nail it down, but I finally did. The author was protecting the heroine by not wanting to push her. This is a fatal mistake in many stories. Too often we think, “oh, I can’t do that to my character!”
Why not?
Life doesn’t hold back. We go through trials. People lose loved ones. Friends abandon us. Pets die. Accidents place people in comas. We should not protect our characters if we want to have any life in our stories. That’s right—create chaos to instill life. Ironic, isn’t it, since we typically strive for peaceful lives and usually that is a life without drama.

In fiction, life without drama spells B-O-R-I-N-G.

How often have you protected your heroine? Or rewritten your hero so that he’s driving down another road because if he went left instead of right, that’d be right through gang-laden territory he’d been trying to avoid?

I challenge writers to push your characters PAST their limits, see what they’re made of. What we—as writers—are made of. It’s not easy to release that much pain and agony on a “person” you’ve grown to care about and love.

Yes, this madness certainly could alter your story. But here’s what we need to consider: is it going to make our character and story stronger? Is it going to make the ending excel? If so, then maybe we need to take that lonely, dark road.

Many times story-altering changes like this will not only deepen your fiction, but grow you as a writer. Do you have a character you’re protecting? What can you do to change that?