Monday Motivation: Getting the measure of your man
One of your chief concerns as you write your story is to show what sort of man your protagonist is. One excellent way of doing this is to confront him with alternatives. The choices he makes will tell us what sort of man (or woman, or mouse, or robot) he is.
When Satan approaches Christ in the wilderness, he offers him dominion over the world: “… The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.'”
When Mephistopheles approaches Faust, he offers him wisdom (and riches, and women, and fame), in return for his immortal soul.
These choices tell us everything we need to know about the characters being tested.
Macaulay had a great idea for showing character. “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.”
That’s a real moral test – and it applies as much to the schoolboy facing a shelf of chocolates when the proprietor has popped out of the store, as it does to the Cabinet Minister offered an untraceable cash bribe.
It’s the test that a South African moral philosopher used to pose to his philosophy students. “Imagine,” he said, “that you’re hiking through the bush. Your track takes you close to a road where a vehicle has stopped. You observe a man concealing something in a tree. After the man has returned to his car and made off, you check out the tree. In a hollow within it, you find a bag full of cash – and a plastic packet filled with a white powder. What do you do?”
There are moral implications to any choice you might make under these circumstances. It’s such a fine test that we’ve used this scenario in our workshops as a handy exploration of character.
So: test your protagonist with secret temptations and so reveal his true character.
Weekend Retreat, Temenos, McGregor – 24 to 26 March
Creative Saturday, Muizenberg, Cape Town – 1 April
30-Day Writing Workout, online – 2 to 31 May
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