Peggy Bechko: Writers Drawing The Line For Their Characters


by Peggy Bechko

We, as people, have all kinds of values and codes we live by whether we’re fully aware of how we define them or not. There are things that just stick in our craws or rub us the wrong way. There are lines that can’t or won’t be crossed and places we don’t want to go. Beliefs we hold dear and of course reactions to those held by others.

So, how can we use all this in writing.


Make your characters draw their lines in the sand. Think about the big issues in life and how your characters feel/react to them. How they can be integrated into your story and your characters to draw tension and create action.

For example. Where is the line drawn between a freedom fighter and a terrorist? Thinking of Snowden, just exactly who is a traitor or who is a whistle blower patriot? How do you decide when a character is out and out greedy or just very ambitious? At times how does your character determine the difference between murder and justice? Confronting a black-hearted, cold-blooded killer who’s just murdered one the hero loves is it murder to kill that person or is it justice?

There are many lines to be drawn, many strongly held beliefs. An assassin kills without a second thought – but he/she won’t harm a child – no matter what.

Life is full of dichotomies; give some to your characters. Force the issues in their lives. Put them up against their own strongly held beliefs and moral codes. Let the freedom fighter teeter dangerously close to becoming no more than a terrorist and find himself again. Is all great ambition no more than cloaked greed? Let your character sort that out.

And what about responsibility for our own actions? The hero or heroine’s actions? When is it a ‘child’ committing a crime (cold blooded murder by a twelve-year-old) and when should that ‘child’ be considered an adult? By his or her age? By his or her actions? By his or her understanding of right and wrong?

How about a criminal who performed a violent act that cost the lives of many? If he is a great person in prison, helping others find their way out of a life of crime and then proceeds to save the warden’s life during a prison break out does that make up for the past? Is he reformed ~ or not? Should he be granted his freedom? What about those he harmed so grievously in the past? Is one of them going to come after him with revenge in mind?

Yep, it’s worth thinking about. You can see it in many movie plots and novel threads and you see it every day around you. Just read the paper or listen to the news, or your friends chat.

Take those lines drawn, those beliefs and force your characters to make hard choices. Draw some lines and see where it leads.