My Best Frenemy is Me

One of the core beliefs of my world view is that what I do matters, that I can actively shape my future through hard work and sacrifice.  Yes, there are millions of other people in this world and their decisions will affect me in countless ways I can neither predict nor control.  Everybody is working to shape their own future and some of those futures are at odds with the one I see for myself.  There are also many goals that are out of my reach -- for now.  Despite all this, what I do matters.

For instance, as I write this, I am recently returned from a backpacking trip in to the Grand Canyon where a group of friends and I hiked 41 miles in 4 days, each with over 50 pounds in our packs.  Let me put this out there for the record.  I am not in good shape.  I have had way too much shape for a very long time, but I’ve been working on both of these things.  As we sat on the South Rim, trying to catch our breath after the final hike out the South Kaibab trail, I looked to one of my fellow adventurers and said, “You know what?  There’s no way I would’ve survived that a year ago.  This has been the most incredibly difficult thing I’ve ever done.”

This is no different for our characters.  Characters should create, but more importantly, solve most of their own problems.  As readers, we love redemption stories.  Yes, the character made some mistake, potentially a huge one, but they are working to put things to rights.  We love stories where characters set some impossible goal and work their tail off to achieve it.  This is the premise for pretty much any sports story we care to name.  We especially love stories where characters are dealt a bad hand, but still make something for themselves from it.  These are the kinds of stories that give us hope for our own lives.

I always try to make my characters their own best friend-enemy (“frenemy”).  I want my characters to make mistakes, to make complicated situations worse.  I want my reader to scream at my protagonist that what they are doing is stupid, and can’t they see how this will ruin everything?  But more importantly, I want my reader to keep reading with the belief that because my protagonist will work, struggle and sacrifice, he will eventually succeed.  Not because of the intervention of another character.  Not because I, the author, dictate it to be so, but rather because what the character does matters.


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