We don’t usually think of it this way, but in a very real sense, to bribe someone is to pay him to go against his beliefs; to extort someone is to threaten him unless he goes against them.
- How much would you have to pay the vegan animal rights activist to eat a steak (bribery)? Or, how would you need to threaten her in order to coerce her into doing it (extortion)?
- What would it cost to get the loving, dedicated couple to agree never to see each other again (bribery)? Or, how would you need to threaten them to get them to do so (extortion)?
- What would you need to pay the pregnant teenage Catholic girl to convince her to have an abortion (bribery)? What threat could you use to get her to do it (extortion)?
Look for ways to bribe and extort your characters. Don’t be easy on them. As writers we sometimes care about our characters so much that we don’t want them to suffer. As a result we might shy away from putting them into difficult situations.
That’s the exact opposite of what needs to happen in order for our fiction to be compelling.
What’s the worst thing you can think of happening to your character, contextually, within this story? Now, challenge yourself—try to think of something else just
as bad, and force your character to decide between
Plumb the depths of your character’s convictions by asking, “How far will s/he go to … ?” and “What would it take for … ?”
(1) How far will Frank go to protect the one he loves?
(2) What would it take for him to stand by and watch the one he loves die when he has the power to save her?
(1) How far will Angie go to find freedom?
(2) What would it take for her to choose to be buried alive?
(1) How far will Detective Rodriguez go to pursue justice?
(2) What would it take for him to commit perjury and send an innocent person to death row?
Ask yourself: What does my character believe in? What priorities does she have? What prejudices does she need to overcome? Then, put her convictions to the ultimate test to make her truest desires and priorities come to the surface.