Friday, September 5, 2014

The Advantage of Self-Doubt

Let me clarify.  I’m not talking in the writer.  As writers, we’ve got enough people doubting us – even if they don’t say it out loud.  We’ve got to have faith in ourselves even when things don’t look to be sunny and rosy. 

I’m talking about self-doubt in the character. 

Right now, I’m halfway through Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  I avoided reading the second book because I wasn’t sure how I felt about the first book.  This year’s NaNoWriMo theme in our region involves the Hunger Games, so I figured I’d better find out how it ends.  So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

As I was thinking about the book so far, I realized that almost nothing has happened.  Plot wise, it’s been a very slow book.  Yet, I’m still riveted.  I still want to keep reading.  Why?

Katniss is one of those complex characters that always keeps me guessing.  Honestly, with the self-doubt she struggles with, I’m amazed she’s not mentally crippled.  From the first book, I wouldn’t have expected that.  She just won, she’d somehow beaten the system.  I’d have been elated.  Instead, she’s pulled away, reexamining everything that happened and believing the worst of herself.

Why is the effective?  Because when the character doubts themselves, then the reader will too.  Each character must endure trials and struggles.  Otherwise, there would be no story.  The reader goes through the experience with the character, and it’s important that they realize the danger of losing.  If you’re cheering for someone, it’s more exciting when there’s a chance they won’t achieve their goal.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to Katniss, but knowing that she doesn’t know that she’s going to win means that there’s a chance that she won’t.  There’s a chance that everything will end in disaster.  That’s why I keep reading.  Not because the action is riveting, but because I want to see the outcome. 

Now I want to go back and double check how confident my characters are in myself, and I know the one who probably needs a health amount of self-doubt.  From the start, she’s overly confident, and I’ve got to find a way to knock her down, give the reader a chance to wonder if she’s going to win.

Do you infuse your character with doubt?  Do you raise the stakes so that the reader wonders if victory is even possible?