During sixth grade, my dad and his pals teased their young, female teacher by throwing spitballs during class. One day, Dad used his slingshot and let one go. Unfortunately, the spitball hit his teacher’s ear.
Slingshots and rubber bands, when stretched, can create stress. So can wind. A gale recently stressed my Backyard Bowl birch tree so much that it broke off, catapulting three inches deep into the lawn.
Perhaps we can compare these examples of stress to the human condition. Our thoughts, words, and actions cause either positive or negative stress on our bodies, minds, and spirits.
In fiction writing, the main character (MC) must always have a goal. Reaching that goal involves facing a mental or physical stressful situation. The MC’s reaction to the stress will result in a resolution. Here are a few examples:
1. Goal and conflict: A first-grader’s goal is to reach school safely while walking past the neighbor’s snarling dog. Possible resolutions: beg until his mom will drive him; run fast and hope the dog won’t bite; face his fear by trying to make friends with the dog.
2. Goal and conflict: A housewife wants to save her marriage after she learns about her husband’s unfaithfulness. Possible resolutions: become bitterly resentful; hide the truth internally and live with unhappiness; insist on counseling; blame him; accept blame and learn how to be a better wife.
3. Conflict: A teenager faces a bully. Possible resolutions: cower and run, thereby facing the reputation of being a sissy; fight back; turn the other cheek with a smile, thereby gaining the bully’s respect and friendship.
The final outcome of the MC’s dilemma may be something other than what is hoped for or expected. The housewife’s husband, for instance, may leave her. The bullied teenager might decide to quit school.
As in real life, the MC must face several problems in his quest to reach his goal. How he does that is what makes a story successful.
After this lengthy intro, let me offer this short excerpt of Trouble at Fish Camp, my second book in the Ways of the Williwaw series. Can you find the MC’s (Freddy) main goal? Can you feel the tension between him and the other characters?
Freddy’s guts churned. If only he felt as peaceful as the soft waves coming into shore. The fish camp on Kodiak Island where he and his friend, Jake Bergren, sat mending nets was usually the most serene place in the world. But this summer, Freddy’s cousin, Pete, was at the neighboring camp. That meant trouble. Not only was Pete a bully, he held a secret about Freddy that must not be told.
Freddy jerked his head around at the sound of a grunt. Jake lay spilled on the gritty beach clutching his belly. Pete stood over him, a menacing smile on his face.
“Lay off!” Freddy yelled. “Jake didn’t do nothin’ to you.”
Pete turned away from Jake and glared. He balled up his fist and stepped to within a hair of Freddy’s face. “He stole my job on the Danny Boy, that’s what he did!” Pete shoved Freddy hard.
Freddy clenched his teeth. He felt his lip scar tighten. Growling like a wounded bear, he charged into Pete, grabbing his shirt. Buttons popped. Pete jerked back. They fell hard, sand spraying like birdshot. Pete grunted, squeezing Freddy’s neck. Fear shot through Freddy’s gut like a poisoned arrow. He yanked Pete’s hands away with a strength he didn’t know he possessed. “Run, Jake!” he croaked. “An’ watch yer back!”