A few days ago I was backing out of my driveway. The high school bus was just pulling up so I waited a moment so I could say hi to my seventeen-year-old son.
The kids filed off the bus one by one. Then I saw my son. In his left hand he was carrying….
a giant, yellow stuffed duckie.
He saw me watching him and looked sheepish. I couldn't help but smirk at his early Easter gift when he got close enough to my rolled down window.
“That’s what you get for dating a fifteen-year-old girl,” I told him.
My son rolled his eyes and said, “I don’t get it. I have to register for the draft and will be old enough to go to war this year but I still got a duck.”
I felt bad for the girl. She’d tried to be nice (and I’m sure my son accepted it graciously) but really? What kind of self-respecting teenage boy wants a giant duckie? It’s not like he’s going to put it on his bed.** Candy would have been more appropriate and appreciated. But the giver was a young girl and she probably just picked something she wanted. It was easier.
Flash forward to yesterday. I’m tweaking a subplot in my WIP. What I’ve set up isn’t quite working and I realized the problem is that I got in one of my character’s way. I gave her something (a boyfriend) and it was throwing a kink in the story. Like my son’s duckie, the boyfriend was an easier choice but wasn’t right for her. I don’t mean he wasn’t good for her; I mean that she shouldn’t have a boyfriend at all. There wasn’t enough conflict with him around. And now that I’m in the muddled middle of my story, I need to keep upping my stakes. (So guess who's getting a boyfriend-dectomy today.)
I think sometimes we forget to listen to what our characters want or fail to know them fully. And sometimes we give them what we want them to have - and forget to give them what they need. But it’s our job as authors to tell the story. And sometimes that means getting rid of those duckies.
Take a look at what you’re working on right now. Are you staying true to your character's needs or are you giving them what you want them to have? Because there’s a difference.
**In case you’re curious about what my son did with his duckie: he gave it to me to pass along to the little boy I babysit.