“I can’t take anymore.”
“I’m at my wit’s end.”
“I’m ready to snap.”
I’m stretched to the limit.”
Likely, we’ve all heard, said, thought, and/or felt like those statements.
Trials are common to us all. Conflict, adversities, doubt, unfulfilled goals happen in life. We have challenges that can thwart our best-laid plans. Or if we get what we want, often the dream can become a nightmare. Many conflicts in life come because of our wrong choices, someone else’s actions, natural disasters, disease, financial problems, accidents, and sometimes we don’t know the cause.
And yet…the tension in life that we don’t like is what we’re to put into the lives of our characters. Tension comes from the Latin word tendere which means to stretch. And we’re to make things tougher for our characters until there seems no way out. To stretch our characters we create tension and then raise the stakes.
You might say a stake is to a novel what a steak is to a fine dinner. Picture this: a piece of pointed wood being hammered into the ground. The stakes are the meat or heart of the story. The stakes are what captures the editor’s attention and makes the book a page-turner.
Readers love it.
The readers feel a sense of excitement and interest, not because they like seeing the character in trouble, but want to know and learn from how the characters handle their adversities.
As the character is stretched with their outer and inner conflicts and tension, so is the reader. The character learns to rely on God and lean on him and know he’s with him/her through the trial. They learn it’s okay to question and doubt God. But as the character learns to rely on God, so does the reader.
There’s a saying, “Write what you know.”
Through research we can learn a lot of things we don’t naturally know. But we know best what we’ve experienced. And as Christians we learn to know that God is with us through all kinds of adversities. We know God has been, is, will be with us through our trials. This is the message we incorporate into our characters’ lives.
That’s why we stretch our characters to the limit. So we can share with the reader what we know, learn, hope, or accept.
I find that giving my characters stressful situations, I along with them discover my own faith and explore its depth or shallowness. In a sense, writing about being stretched to the limit helps my own conviction of what I believe, and I can incorporate that faith message into the life of at least one of my characters.
Stretched to the limit?
Fine. Just know God is there with us as we go through it. By letting that take place in the life of a character is letting it take place within us as writers, and within the ones who read our stories.