It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win. — John Paul Jones.
Your main character in a story must risk something–or many things–to grow and resolve the core problem in the plot. In other words, to win. And, when you get right down to it, the reason for the plot, the story, the character, is to win in the end. Right?
Well, unless you are writing a story about losing in the end.
I think the little quote from John Paul Jones above is definitive. If you do not risk, you cannot win. It doesn’t mean you won’t lose, it just means you cannot win. There are no guarantees. That’s why plots with the main character risking something, risking much, can still end up in failure, at least after a first or second try. Of course, we always want the main character to win out in the end, so somehow, he or she learns from previous failure and puts together a winning final solution.
This is the character arc. The plot presents our character with a problem, who attempts a solution. Our character fails, stumbles, falls, but gets up and tries again until successful. Along the way, the character must risk something. Reputation, career, wealth, family, health, love, life, are some things we lay on the table and place our coins of risk on them.
What the character learns through risk and failure drives the character to new risk, new trials and eventually success.
But, most people are risk averse. They fear losing. That applies to businesses and corporations as well as people. During my career in information technology, the greatest roadblock to implementation of new technology or stronger security was the organization’s aversion to, or inability to accept, risk. The old technology was something they knew and the security levels in place were comfortable, if not adequate. But, to grow and improve services and capabilities for customers, they had to accept a certain level of risk. This wasn’t always a recipe for success.
Characters–our people–are similar. They fear risk, change, disruption of their daily life. That disruption the plot puts in front of them shakes them up. Our character wants to continue with their day, meet their friends, do their work and not go gallivanting across the country on a God-sent mission. In Sudden Mission, the angel Gabriel brings the mission to Paul. Paul resists the mission, the message. He struggles with the risk, the size and scope of the mission, and doesn’t have faith in his ability to complete it. He finally accepts, and it boils down to his faith and obedience to God.
The struggle to accept risk doesn’t stop with that first challenge from the plot. A fully fleshed out plot will have challenges all down the road and the main character must continue to accept the challenge, accept the risk and fight on until the end.
Risk is the coinage we use to wager against fate. If we do not risk, we cannot win. If we win, only then can we expect reward. Success is not guaranteed. Anyone who ever played poker can tell you that.