Push Your Characters to Fail

My son is learning how to run cross country. That might seem like the most bizarre thing in the world, as running follows the natural progression of sit, crawl, walk. But running three miles (or more!) requires a different mindset than following the natural. Running cross country tends to be a battle with the mind while pushing muscles and ligaments to continue the pace.

When he was in a race last week (across long grass nearly the whole time), some of his teammates started yelling at him to think of his favorite song. Find a rhythm, get your mind off of what you are feeling, pace yourself to the beat. He needed a distraction, a focal point. But then, the last 200 meters or so was a straight path, with the finish line waiting ahead, crowd cheering and everything about his focus had to be on encouraging an already tired body to run as fast as it could.

What’s really fascinating, and most likely the reason these high schoolers continue running, is when their muscles are screaming along with the fans, when fatigue is written in bold across their faces, when encouraging parents promise they are almost there and there’s still a mile left, these teens tuck their head, increase their focus, and keep running.

Take a character you are working on right now. Would they do the same?

What would the battle unseen feel like? Look like? Sound like?

It might be trying to reconcile and undesirable past. Maybe it is conquering a fear, seen or unseen. Maybe they feel like they’ve hit their breaking point, that they have tried all the things they know how to do and still are met with failure, frustration, loneliness. When you get the character to this point, sit back and pay yourself on the back because you’ve got the character right where they need to be.

You see, the reason that we read, the reason we adore the characters who we do adore is because they were pushed to the brink and still kept working toward their thing.

You might be happy to know that last week, my son cut more than two minutes from his race time in a single race. Both me, my husband,  and his coaches cheered as if he had won. _________________________________________

Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.