Truth or Dare


Many of us here are fiction writers. We create people. We place them in stressful situations. Our creations lie, cheat, steal, make love. They embarrass us, make us laugh, make us cry.

Or they should.

If our characters don't make us experience their emotions when we write them, they won't make a reader feel them either. In order for our characters to come to life, we can give them deep dark secrets and make sure they show us the truth.

Let's call our character Lucy. Is Lucy afraid of failure?

If so, have her tell us, Show us in something she does. Maybe she doesn't put in for a promotion because she's afraid she'll mess up and lose her job. Maybe she pushes others away because she's scared of failing in a relationship. Show us how she feels.

The reader needs to be able to smell her sweat, taste her tears, feel the pounding of her heart, her frustration, her fear.

But the real truth comes from the writer. We have to be true to ourselves. We must be unafraid to explore these emotions and set our characters free to experience them. Sometimes this requires us to dig deep. If we don't bare our emotions, our characters fall short.


After you've shown us Lucy's truth, dare her to try something new. Something important. Something she must try and can't fail doing without severe consequences. Force it on her.

Take her emotions and whip them into overdrive. She won't comply willingly. Narrow her options until she has no other choice. Watch her squirm.

Truth or Dare.


patti said…
Carol, have you been reading, "Writing the Breakout Novel"?

GREAT advice, dear one. Today I just might take it.

Helen Ginger said…
Excellent advice, Carol. If things go too easily for your characters, the book overall will sag.

Terry Odell said…
I recall one very early crit group leader who said, "Oh, don't let anything else bad happen to Sarah."

Glad I learned enough to ignore her advice!

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery
Clarissa Draper said…
Is that the truth. My characters hate me most of the time because I put them through such horrible situations.

Great post.

Carol Kilgore said…
Patti - I read Maass' book a few years ago, and it's still on my shelf. He probably does say something similar.

Helen - So true.

Terry - The bad stuff is what makes a great read!

Clarissa - I'm editing now. I need my protagonist to hate me more :)
Lydia Kang said…
Oh it hurts to push our characters into uncomfortable situations. But if we're uncomfortable writing it, then we're probably making a great scene!
Talli Roland said…
I love watching my characters squirm. Hm - not such what that makes me!
Carol Kilgore said…
Lydia - I hope that's the way it works!

Talli - I know, right?
Great concept. I certainly pushed my main character in that manner.
Laura Eno said…
So true, Carol, and so hard to stick to if it's something that makes the writer squirm as well - which is the best kind.
irishoma said…
Hi Carol,
Thanks for the great advice.
Carol Kilgore said…
Alex - Good for you!

Laura - I agree.

Donna - You're welcome.
One of my main characters has a phobia and I made it crucial to one moment in the plot. I felt mean. He hated it. He also hated the outcome. Let's hope it works.
Relating truth or dare to writing is very clever and the advice is excellent. Thanks!
Carol Kilgore said…
Elspeth - Sounds good to me.

Jane - I'm usually up for anything outside the box to get my point across - LOL.
Palindrome said…
I enjoy making my characters suffer too much! LOL! But the need for constant examples is a great reminder!

Carol Kilgore said…
I need the reminder. Sigh.
VR Barkowski said…
I start with what I think will make readers squirm, then I throw it at my characters. Maybe not the best approach for general fiction, but seems to work for suspense.
Cassandra Jade said…
Great advice on characters and ways to help our readers connect with them. Thanks for the share.
"what can go wrong, must go wrong" :)
Carol Kilgore said…
VR - Good idea!

Cassandra - You're welcome.

Chick Lit Shorties - Right. I totally agree. Thanks for commenting :)
Jayne said…
Carol - nice to see you on your pic! Like Talli, I like making my characters squirm, or at least face the fear. They do it so much more effectivly than me. :)
arlee bird said…
Pushing your character to the edge and beyond is what helps draw the reader in and keeps them turning the pages.

Tossing It Out
Carol Kilgore said…
Jayne - I like seeing everyone's face, too, so decided to post my own mug shot. I wish I were as brave as my characters, too.

Arlee - Exactly. It's not always easy.
Ann Best said…
Thanks for commenting on my blog today.

And I'm so glad to see your picture! I really like to see bloggers' pictures, preferably ones that are kind of close to the real age (I make allowances for such "older" people as me, especially when the camera's not kind!). I assume this is one view of you (lol). I also love your banner picture. That seems to fit your blog.

Showing the characters' emotions is crucial. Why else do we read stories if not to get inside people?
Carol Kilgore said…
I'm older than this photo. It was taken last year. I'm glad you're enjoying the banner photo.
Anonymous said…
How right you are. Boy, oh boy am I currently confronting this one right now. This post effectively is giving me that push I need to confront and do right by my own currently. Thanks for that, Carol!
Great post, Carol! I know how important it is to force the characters into zones of discomfort. That's the only way the can grow. The only way the reader can believe in who they are!

Carol Kilgore said…
Kimberly - It's much easier for me to write this blog post than it is for me to torture my characters, especially the protagonist. I get tougher with each draft, though.

Elizabeth - Thanks for visiting the Tiki Hut and commenting. This is one of the most important things we can do.