In a recent episode (The Miller’s Daughter) one of the main characters, Mary Margaret, aka Snow White, was handed a life-altering decision. That got me to wondering whether, my black moments are truly as dark as they should be. Am I putting enough at stake? Maybe not.
All her life, Snow has battled against dark magic by doing the right thing. She holds tight to goodness. That’s what her mother taught her. That’s her core.
Her defeats teach her that good doesn’t always triumph. As a child, she had the opportunity to save her mother’s life, but to do so she’d have to choose someone else to die in her mother’s place. She couldn’t do it and her mother died.
Now the black moment. Snow is forced to make a decision that goes completely against her being. In “The Miller’s Daughter,” Snow’s choices are to either give Regina and Cora (the truly bad guys) Rumplestiltskin’s dagger, thus giving them complete magic power and saving her childhood nurse, Johanna. Or she can retain the dagger, let Rumplestiltskin die (who has turned into sort of a good guy, and she’s just found out he’s the other grandfather of Snow’s grandson), which will keep the people of Storybrook safe.
Snow ends up giving Regina and Cora the dagger in exchange for Johanna. Their reunion is short-lived when Regina murders Johanna anyway.
Each time Snow has done the right and good thing, it has cost her dearly. With the death of her childhood nurse, she tells Prince Charming she doesn’t care about justice anymore. Wow! This is our hero, Snow White.
If you don’t watch “Once Upon a Time,” it’s well worth the hour. It is so valuable that I’m thinking of counting that time as a writing class and taking my cable bill off my taxes. Um, maybe not.
Here’s the trick (and it sounds easier than it is):
- Root the current crisis in with the hero’s past.
Thus making the crisis more personal and more rooted in their core.
- Give the character two choices, neither of which is good.
The consequences of the two choices need to be really bad and worse.
They have to make the choice or something even worse will happen.
In stories, as in life it’s all in the choices. You have to make your characters—all of them—the products of their choices. It’s more work, but your stories will shine for it and be memorable. The Miller’s Daughter is one I’m going to use as a template. If you’d like to read the whole synopsis, go to http://beta.abc.go.com/shows/once-upon-a-time/episode-guide/once-upon-a-time-episode-216-the-millers-daughter
How do you make your characters memorable?
How do you make your black moments dark enough?