Nothing shakes up your life quite like a new and unexpected responsibility. You have your routine down, life has been going smoothly for you, and then all of a sudden- WHAM! Your boss asks you to babysit over a long weekend. Suddenly, your life is chaotic. Your once relaxing, singular existence is now filled with diapers, pacifiers, and wailing. You’re stressed and tired and you want the nightmare to end, but you also want to get in your boss’s good graces. You continuously chant that as a mantra in your head as you’re repeatedly spit-up on.
Adding a new responsibility to the lives of your characters can show your readers how they’d handle specific situations. It can also help readers understand your character motivations better and allow you to practice a small character arc.
1) What kind of responsibility?
Start by thinking of what type of responsibility you want to inflict upon your character. Think about who they are and what would most force them out of their comfort zone or force them to grow. For example, let’s say you have a character who hates reading. Having this character find out that their grandmother left them her little indie book shop will force the character completely out of their comfort zone. They’ll be pushed into a world filled with people they have nothing in common with whose hobby they view as rubbish. This can create very interesting confrontations and character development.
2) How do they feel about it?
How does your character feel about the responsibility that has been thrust upon them? For example, let’s take the babysitting boss’s kids example. In this instance, your character could feel overly confident about their ability to handle their new babysitting duties. This will wind up leaving them surprised when the kids are much more difficult to handle than they’d originally anticipated. On the other hand, your character could have very little faith in their ability to care for children over several days. This could leave them nervous and anxious leading up to the event.
3) What are the stakes?
In order for the event to have weight, it must have something at stake. So, for example, if your character inherits the book shop- they’re also in charge of caring for their grandmother’s legacy. In the babysitting example, the character obviously wants to remain or gain good standing with their boss. If your character finds a stray bird on the brink of death, the stakes are obviously life or death for the animal in question. They could be given a new job or even a long-lost child, in each case the character must have something to gain and lose from the outcome of the new responsibility.
4) How do they handle it & why?
How does your character handle the situation? Do they rise to the occasion or fall short? Do they handle it with patience or anger/resentment? Do they find some joy in a situation they thought was bleak initially? Or do they end up hating a responsibility they were excited about in the beginning? Think about how someone with their personality would handle the situation you’ve created and why.
5) What do they learn from it?
How does your character grow or change from the added responsibility? Do they, eventually, learn to appreciate what they’ve been given? Do they become more responsible and decide to make some big life changes? Or does it drive them further away from something they were already averse to?
Take a character from your book and choose a period in their life when they were given an unexpected responsibility. What are the stakes involved? How do they handle the new responsibility? How do they grow and change from this instance? Make sure you answer all of the questions in the scenes you write and understand how this occurrence was important to their personal growth.