Threatening Your Characters

Minions, when you’re writing, don’t you sometimes encounter trouble when your characters won’t communicate with you? Maybe they know something important, plot critical even, and they won’t tell you. Maybe you want them to do a thing and they don’t want to do a thing. And maybe they want to do a thing you don’t want them to do at all!

The pseudo-schizophrenia of writers is one of the great joys of writing. However, it can be uncomfortable when one’s beloved brain children just refuse to cooperate, especially with revealing important information. Especially because if you try to explain this conundrum to a non-writer, they have no idea what you’re talking about and may even worry about your mental health. It’s better if you don’t have to get other people involved*, if you have some way to manipulate your characters into behaving.

*This is of course the opposite true if you do have writer friends. Lamenting the stubbornness of characters together is one of the great joys of writing friends.

There are lots of ways to manipulate someone, but in this situation, I prefer the good old go-to of vicious threats. For even my most begrudging, stubborn, and rude characters, this is highly effective. The only problem is that, for a good threat to be effective, it has to be custom made just for them. It becomes an elegant art of tailoring; you can’t just say, “Tell me or I’ll beat you up!”

Example one. I’ve mentioned my psychopath before – the thing about Vince is that even if I could mentally beat him up, he wouldn’t care. But he’s quite strong and an excellent fighter, so it would be a really hard threat to carry out anyway. However, he doesn’t enjoy the feel of clothing, and he loathes the color pink, and he’s rather homophobic so…

Ah, the memories…

So if in the future I have any trouble from him, I can just wink and nod at my pink colored pencils and say, “Next time? Victorian.”

After drawing this picture, I was laughing with a friend about how effectively the threat works; this was a friend with whom I did idle character-growth roleplay (I recommend it, it’s a great way to get to know your characters) and in a more silly out-of-character discussion, overlord Etheromos was giving her trouble, so she tried to threaten him with similarly ridiculous wardrobes. It…didn’t really work. Overlord of all things, dressed up as a pink French maid, and all he wanted to do was complain that the colors were garish and then continue ignoring her.

On relaying the hilarity to my brother (who has been a victim of my telling endless stories and knows my characters quite well), he rolled his eyes and said, “No, no, what she should have done was spilled wine all over his robes!” Which is funny because he was right. The little version of Ether in my head started up from his book with wide, fearful eyes, backing away into the corner of my mind, shrieking, “No! No! Wine stains! Anything but that!”

So there you have it. If your character is giving you trouble, take time to craft a creative, devious threat. It’s become one of my hobbies to do so – especially for other people’s characters. What? You have Nyarlathotep as a character in your story? Easy, they made that anime where they turned him into a cute anime girl, just threaten to represent him similarly. You have a little girl who knows a secret and won’t tell anyone, not even you? Maybe you can get mud on her dress, or destroy her dolly, or lock her in a room of spiders…little girls vary a lot but there’s gotta be something that would make her cry. Find it, and you have your threat. Paladin won’t budge? Find some way to threaten his honor.

The thing about threatening your characters when they won’t cooperate is that it’s extortion and possibly torture to do so – an undoubtedly evil act. But I promise it’s faster than negotiation, especially with a character who feels no need to negotiate with you – most of mine don’t, either because they’re insane, think they’re too important to talk to me, or because they know I’m going to ruin their lives and they hate me. Extortion is my best option, but of course it’s not a problem for me. I AM evil. Maybe it’s a problem for you. Maybe you’re lawful, or good, and extortion just isn’t something you can pull on your character to get them to behave. Maybe try giving yourself a little space on the extortion, be one step removed – instead of threatening X to happen in the story, threaten to write a fanfic of your own story about X happening. Therefore there’s no threat of it being canon or – to your characters – truly actually happening to them. For many, that’s still enough.

There are several tools at your disposal for getting your characters to behave. Threatening them is just, in my opinion, the most efficient one.

About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
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2 Responses to Threatening Your Characters

  1. Harliqueen says:

    This was a great post, gave me a lot to think of again! Thanks for sharing 🙂


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