Recently, when I was in Europe, my husband and I went for a hike in the Swiss Alps. When we reached the top of our ascent, I started to get dizzy and a little naseous. Resting helped a bit, as did eating a fantastic Rösti, but when we started hiking back down, my symptoms peaked.
I started to get tunnel vision and a strange headache that carved a mohawk into my brain. My legs were wobbly as we made slow progress down a narrow, rocky path. The steep side of the mountain was always at my side, and I had to use my two poles to keep myself from falling.
My husband stopped me and asked if I was okay. I started tearing up, frustrated. I sat against the rock, trying to persuade my heartbeat to return to normal and my husband almost started crying as well.
He knew that I was suffering from altitude sickness, and he knew that getting to a lower elevation would be the only cure, but he felt helpless to do anything about it.
Of course once we succeeded hiking back down the steepest part of the trail, my head felt better, my vision returned, and my legs were more sure. And after we reached the bottom, I felt completely normal.
Think about it–in real life, very few people have to confront their fears like that.
People go years, decades even, without really feeling. But the ones who do…. those are the stories to tell.
In good stories, the characters are put into a situation that makes them feel vulnerable. They are forced to confront their true feelings and make an honest effort to find out what they are made of.
I’m not saying that my life is a “good story” by any means, but there was another element there that helped to fuel the vulnerability that both myself and my husband felt: risk.
We had spent two weeks at sea-level and then gone to Switzerland, where we hiked to almost 10,000 feet. We’re both in good shape, but hiking it at all was a risk.
So whether your character chooses to take a risk and go outside his or her comfort zone, or whether they are forced to do it, make sure that in your writing, that risk and vulnerability play a role.