I’m odd. My favourite book of the Bible is Job. I think the main reason is the wonderful theology that a foolhardy exegete such as I can eke out of it. However, the book is also a great example of how writers should treat—or rather mistreat—their protagonists.
Job’s normal existence is portrayed as idyllic: gifts from God abound, and Job doesn’t have a care in the world. But that doesn’t last, of course. What a boring read the book would be if it did! Unbeknown to Job, Satan gains permission from God to mete out a progression of blows on the man. Initially, Job’s possessions are taken away and his children die. Then, to kick him while he’s down, Satan inflicts a painful disease on him.
The final problem to befall Job is a lack of understanding from his friends (well-meaning though they be).
These troubles give rise to the conflicts that comprise the bulk of the book. The main conflict is internal: since Job wasn’t privy to the scenes in which Satan communicates with God, he attributes his afflictions to God and this causes him to question his faith. The external conflict involves Job defending himself and his beliefs against the questionable logic of those around him.
As writers, I think we all know what it’s like to play God in the stories we create. We fashion the characters and settings. We shape how events unfold and direct the final outcome.
But the bit that interests me is that we should also play Satan. In the same way that Satan seeks and obtains permission from God to inflict travails on Job, we must grant ourselves permission to inflict travails on our beloved protagonists—and preferably several layers of them. If I may be permitted to refer to mystical arts in a Christian blog, it’s like sticking pins into a voodoo doll.
I’ll confess that I derive a perverse sense of satisfaction from inflicting challenges on my protagonists. Perhaps I should be worried about this! Hopefully it’s only because I’m curious to see how they’ll respond.
As writers, it would be a problem for us if we get so attached to our stories’ heroes and heroines that we become unwilling to load them down with obstacles. Without problems, there can be no conflict; with no conflict, there can be no drama, no plot and no story. A hero with no challenges can’t show how heroic he is (and presumably a heroine couldn’t show how heroinic she is).
So next time you’re playing God, don’t forget that you’re also the devil’s advocate.
Peter McLennan writes YA novels. His first novel has just been published on Amazon and Smashwords.