by Megan Oliphant
Darth Vader: You cannot hide forever, Luke.
Luke: I will not fight you.
Darth Vader: Give yourself to the Dark Side. It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for... sister. So, you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her, too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete. If you will not turn to the Dark Side... then perhaps she will...
Luke: [igniting light saber, screams] NO!
(Star Wars, Episode VI, Return of the Jedi)
There was a time when I couldn't write. I tried, oh, I tried. I wrote short stories and novel chapters and picture books. And they all stunk. Why? Because I couldn't give my characters problems.
One of my biggest flaws that I had to overcome as a writer was making everything perfect in my stories. Do you remember when you were little and you played imagination games with your friends? It didn't matter if it was princesses, pirates, or Star Wars, I had to make my person be the strongest, fastest, have the coolest magic that could counteract anything anybody could throw at me. After a while it got boring, because no one could defeat the other, or even kidnap them for very long, because the other person would miraculously develop some other talent or skill or find the critical piece needed to escape sitting on the dungeon floor.
It was the same in my beginning stories. No problems, or problems so easily solved by my perfect characters, it was B-O-R-I-N-G.
I used that quote from Star Wars at the beginning to make a point. We have to, as writers, be seduced by the Dark Side. It doesn't matter if you're writing a picture book for toddlers or the Great American Novel. Our characters have to be real. They have to have real, relatable problems. Those problems have to be impossible stumbling blocks that make our characters do things out of character, to become something different than they were when they started. As readers, we read about other people dealing with insane issues so that our normal challenges don't seem so challenging. "Hey! I'm not getting chased by a dragon into a volcano! I think I can handle the dishes today."
This doesn't mean you have to glorify evil, or make it seem beautiful. But we do have to embrace the Dark Side within, and acknowledge it, and put it in our writing. Because (lean in close, it's a secret): Everyone else has a Dark Side, too. And when they see your character overcoming evil, or just their own internal demons, it brings a little hope that they, too, can overcome their own Darth Vader.