Pushing your characters to their limits is a basic plot point in just about any story. If things aren’t challenging your characters and progressing them forward, what’s the point? Who’s going to want to read a story if nothing happens or there’s no growth for the people involved in said story?
You do need to be careful when pushing your characters to their limits, though. When you take them to their breaking points, you must be sure they aren’t acting out of the behavior type you previously set for them. Few writing mistakes are as annoying as creating a character who randomly acts so far out of their normal behavior set that it completely takes the reader out of the story. Luckily, there are ways to have characters act out of the ordinary without having it be unbelievable. Here are a few simple ways to make that happen.
This is the most common of the different methods you can utilize to push your characters to their limits and force character growth. These different conflicts can vary from small to large, few to many. It can be a fight between loved ones, or something happens such as your character has a problem in a place they often frequent—like their place of employment. These problems push them to the breaking point and incite behavioral change.
Whatever the breaking point is, the important thing is that it causes them to make a life altering decision—such as quitting their job or breaking up with their significant other. Whatever the conflicts are, how your characters overcome them will establish the path of character growth they take and where the story goes. Essentially, you can use major or minor conflicts to force your characters to act differently without it being unrealistic or done in such a way as to pull the reader out of the story. A good example is a character getting fired from their job and deciding to chase their dreams. Such a drastic change in their life can be a realistic catalyst for behavioral change.
Put Your Character Under The Influence
Putting your character under the influence of something is the second easy way to have them act out of the ordinary in a believable way. This can be anything from drugs and alcohol, or depending on the type of story you’re telling, it can be mind control or having the character put under some kind of spell or alien influence.
Having the characters under the influence, even if it’s just mundane drugs and alcohol, will drag them through the wringer and make for some good stories. This also gives them a good excuse as to why they might act out of character at any given time. For instance, maybe you have a character who’s completely devoted to their significant other, but once they get drunk their behavior is drastically altered and they cheat. Under those circumstances it’s believable they would do something the reader was led to believe they never would.
These simple writing tactics should help push your characters to their limits in believable ways and create some interesting stories. With these tactics you will have characters who make life altering decisions, but in ways where it’s not too far outside of their already established character arc.
Remember, you don’t want your characters acting out of the ordinary for no reason. You must follow the behavioral guidelines you setup for them. If you plan on breaking those guidelines you better have a damn good reason. If you have a nun who suddenly turns into a whore for no reason, your book is probably going in the trash. If you have a nun who finds herself attracted to another nun and goes through a series of internal conflicts before admitting her feelings, you’ll have something worth reading.
Anyway, I hope you folks found this helpful. Until next time, keep on writing!
While you’re here you should check out these other great writing articles!