Written by JJ Barnes
Your characters are the main draw of your story, and a character who will risk it all to get what they want will captivate the attention of your audience. No matter how good your concept is, if your characters don’t interest your audience, you’ll struggle to maintain their attention. Your characters are how they experience your story, and why the events in your story matter.
To make sure your audience is fully invested in seeing if your Protagonist gets what they want, you need to show them why it matters. In this piece, I’ll explain why your audience will love a character who will risk it all, and how to write one.
What Does Risk It All Mean?
To “risk it all”, your character has to put everything on the line to achieve their story goal. They have to risk their lives, their heart, their career, or even all three. They have to have a life that matters to them, and be willing to lose it all for the chance to get what they want.
What Is The Story Goal?
At the beginning of your story, you need to give your Protagonist a goal. You’re joining them at this point in their lives for a reason and it’s not to see them doing nothing. You’re joining them now because a story is happening, and that story is them pursuing something they want.
The goal they’re pursuing can be anything, as long as they’re motivated to get it. If it’s something dangerous, it could be to defend their home from invaders. If it’s romantic, then it could be finding a date to a wedding. Or, if it’s career related, then it could be a promotion. It really doesn’t matter WHAT their goal is, as long as they have a goal and they’re motivated to achieve it.
Your story begins when they set out to achieve their goal, and ends when they either achieve it, or have to accept that they can’t.
Why Does It Matter If They Risk It All?
If your character is willing to risk it all, that means their goal matters. When their goal matters, that means the story matters. If the story matters, that means your audience will want to read it.
When a story doesn’t matter, because whether your character accomplishes their goal or not doesn’t matter, why would your audience be invested in reading it?
If your story has high stakes, and your character could lose everything, the tension is immediately high. When the tension is high, the story will be exciting. You want your audience to care, you want them to worry about failure. If nobody cares, and failure doesn’t matter, what’s the point?
How To Write A Character Risk It All
To write a character risking it all, you need to establish two things.
- Why does their goal matter?
- Why does what they can lose matter?
What Makes Their Goal Matter?
Just having a character motivated isn’t enough. You can write someone motivated to move to a new country, who desperately wants to move to a new country and is doing everything in their power to accomplish that goal, but if nobody knows why it matters to them, then it doesn’t matter.
Prior to the Inciting Incident, show what is missing in their life. Show them deeply unhappy or bored in their home. Perhaps they’re frightened where they are, or long to be with a loved one somewhere else. This time will connect your audience with why their goal matters when they become active.
Move through the story with that motivation present in every single scene. What they want and why they want it should be infused into everything they say and do throughout your story. Even if it isn’t at the top of their mind at every moment, it needs to be there. Keep them connected to whatever it is that is motivating them the entire time.
Why Does What They Can Lose Matter?
If your Protagonist is risking it all, then what they are risking has to matter. If they are risking nothing important, then the entire impact is lost.
To show your audience what is at stake, and what they can lose, show it in their lives. Show what will be lost if they fail and why they care about it.
If your character wants to move to a new country because they’re frightened, then perhaps failure means they lose their life. Or their children will be killed. Perhaps it means being forced to obey laws they don’t like.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, June wants to escape to Canada. What she risks losing if she fails is her life, if she’s killed for being a traitor, or her freedom if she’s sent back to the Red Centre. It matters. You know why failure is a terrible risk, but you know why she’s willing to take that risk. The stakes are high, the story matters.
Make Sure Your Story Matters
Ultimately, whatever it is your character is risking, as long as your Protagonist matters, your story will matter. A high drama risk, such asJune in The Handmaid’s Tale, is no more or less important than a low drama risk, such as Bridget in Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Wanting to find freedom from an oppressive state might FEEL more important than the desire to find love, but in story terms it isn’t. You see why June wants freedom, because of how she’s treated. You see why Bridget wants love, because she’s lonely. Risking your life, risking your heart, they both matter to your audience, so your story matters to your audience.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose