- Physical need – A common handicap, illness, or negative environment
- Emotional issue – A need or desire that most have felt
- A purpose – A goal that most would find praiseworthy
- Urgency – The goal must be gained soon
- Obstacles – Barriers that readers would identify with
- Vulnerability – A soft spot to exploit
- Sacrifice – Character performs a sacrificial act to overcome obstacles
This week I will begin covering the final two tools.
Vulnerability – A soft spot to exploit
Every hero needs a tender spot in both body and heart. Even Superman had both – Kryptonite and Lois Lane. I like to reveal this vulnerability early for a couple of reasons. (1) So when the villain exploits the weakness, it isn’t a surprise, as if the weakness were tacked on late in the game. (2) The vulnerability is an aspect the reader can wonder and worry about as the story progresses. Even worry is part of emotionally connecting.
Here is how I did this in Reapers:
On the dresser’s top, I slid a tri-fold picture frame closer and ran a finger along the photos of my father, mother, and Misty. I touched her image. Misty. The girl across the street. The girl I had known all my life before I had to leave for good.
I touched the pewter band on my ring finger, a gift from Misty when we were both thirteen, the day we confirmed our promise to each other—the day I left home for the last time.
Her voice, flavored as always with a lovely Scottish accent, filtered into my mind. “Twenty years is a long time,” she had whispered as she rested her head on my shoulder. “No matter what, I’ll be waiting for you. Just promise me you’ll do everything you can to get out early. I hear there are shortcuts.”
I pushed the frame back in place. Someday I would see her again … if she was still alive.
Misty, a lost love, is Phoenix’s soft spot, and readers feel his love and concern for her. Of course, I use the soft spot later to stab his soul. Experienced readers know ahead of time that such a stab will come, so they will worry about it, not knowing when it will come and how it will manifest.
Sacrifice – Character performs a sacrificial act to overcome obstacles
Readers like to see sacrificial characters. In order to establish that quality, I like to show a sacrificial act early, but I make the act small at first. My intent is to show willingness to sacrifice without having the character jump right in with a huge sacrifice. Start small and build up so that each step isn’t a huge surprise but rather a pleasing act that grows and grows.
Here is an early sacrifice for Phoenix in Reapers:
I shook the bottle, making it rattle. “Only two pills left. If they don’t help, I brought something injectable, but it’s way past expired so it has to be a last resort.”
“We believe in you, Phoenix,” Colm said. “You will make the right choice.”
“Let’s just hope a DEO doesn’t show up, or all choices are out the door. Word on the street says that Molly’s critical, so an officer might get wind of it.”
Since medicine was illegal, carrying the death penalty, Phoenix acted sacrificially to bring the pills to help the family. The odds that he would get caught were high enough to worry about, but he didn’t have a gun to his head, so this initial sacrifice wasn’t huge. Readers can identify with a first reasonable risk, and they won’t be shocked as he risks more and more with each future sacrifice. Yet, they will appreciate each faithful step as the character grows and excels.
Next week, I will continue with this series by showing how to continue using the emotional attachment tools as the story progresses, including ramping up the tests of sacrifice and exploiting the character’s vulnerability.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them.
Categories: Writing Tips