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Walk Through the Fire

Posted by Priscilla on March 11, 2013

Nothing better than a hot fire for proving the quality of pottery. When intense heat combines with mismatch of material, careless handling, sharp edges, or uneven thickness, a pot that looked beautiful can come out of the kiln in pieces.

Nothing better than the heat of stress to prove the quality of a character. 


Years ago, I had two friends who suffered the same stress. One came through, the other cracked. Don and John had great jobs, beautiful wives, and active church lives. Both wives walked out on their marriages, shaming their husbands. Don’s anger turned to bitterness. He cut himself off from his friends, his church, and his faith. John was shamed as well, but he reached out to friends and family. He turned for help to his church. He walked into the grief -- and out again.

What does this mean for the writer?

Hold your characters in the fire. Test their mettle. And while you do, remember this: 

1)   Your character is not you

You may be tempted to give your character a trial that you think would show his true spirit, but unless the trial is matched to his personality and experiences as you have already revealed them, it will be a false ordeal.

 2)   Each character needs a unique test

One person’s annealing ordeal is another’s proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” What reveals true character in one person might be just another irritation for another. My daughter was tied up at gunpoint and left on the basement floor of the café where she worked. She handled this traumatic event with aplomb and, apparently, little effect. How so? Could it be that this event did not touch her deepest fears? I suspect so. 

A number of years ago, while teaching in an inner city school, I was falsely accused of calling a boy “out of his name.” Translated, this means I allegedly used a racial slur. Although the accusation was proven false, the gossip and innuendo had already spread. This event changed me profoundly because my greatest fear, it turned out, was the loss of reputation.

 To test your characters effectively, you must know their deepest fear. If they lose that which they cannot live without, will they crack in the kiln? Or will they be stronger for it?


3)   Your characters will tell you their fear

Look at what you have already written. Somewhere in there is the key to your character’s heart. If you have been writing honestly, your characters will have taken over to some extent. In my current WIP, I decided to write a “bad girl” into the story. She was supposed to be a very bad girl. Lo and behold, by the end of chapter two, she had clearly become a girl who cared more about the truth than anything else. Rebellious, yes, but nowhere near the bad girl she was supposed to be. Now, if she cared so much for truth, what would be her greatest fear? That she couldn’t find the truth? That though she thought she knew the truth, she actually believed a lie and in so doing, destroyed other’s lives?

 You may have heard writing instructors say, “How can you make it worse?” Providing your character with his greatest fear come true will certainly make it worse.

 In facing the worst, your characters reveal whether or not they have grit. I hope they do, for those are the characters I want in the books I read.


Posted by Janet Erickson on
Priscilla, love the insight of this. And it's true, in my WIP, Naomi's greatest fear is the loss of her sons. She faces it, succumbs to it, and ultimately overcomes it because of God's faithfulness!
Thank you!
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