Sunday, April 19, 2009

Risk

risk--the potential for and probability of an unwanted outcome from a venture; the chances a character takes when acting or purposefully not acting on a decision; the possibility of a character having enhanced vulnerability as a consequence of a prior act.

The major defining trait of a character in story is agenda (See also goal, purpose); close on the heels of agenda comes the risk the character will endure in order to accomplish the goal. Faintness of heart may hang over a character, posing a threat not only of failure but of shutting the story down. A character who acts in spite of the faintness of heart is keeping the story and his hopes alive. Readers want to root for a character who has been pushed by circumstances to risk all in favor of the stated or implied goal. Think Gatsby for a few moments. Think Ishmael, signing on the Pequod if he'd known in advance of Ahab's agenda. Think of Dorothy Gale taking on the chores assigned her by the Wizard if she'd known his humbug status in advance.

An integral element of story is the epidemic sense of things going wrong to the point where the characters are often waiting for the next round of things that do go wrong, followed by the existential question, What next? Equally integral to story is the drive and willingness of characters to take risks in such story atmosphere.

If the risks in a given story are not of sufficient weight or consequence, the reader will come to realize soon enough that the story is in essence a matter of shooting fish in a barrel.

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