Have you ever been under a spell? I will bet that you have. Have you ever fallen in love? The initial infatuation is a kind of spell. Against all reason, everything about the loved one is good. He or she is attractive, adorable, fascinating, delightful. That phase is followed later by others, naturally, but for a time the loved one is seen through enchanted eyes.
Have you ever fallen under a pall? That’s likely too. Have you ever had a day when nothing goes right? You know that day. The toast burns, the car battery dies, and you get dumped. What else can you expect? It’s a miserable day, that’s all. There’s nothing you can do about it.
Have you ever taken a bite of a poisoned apple? Probably so. Did you ever learn a secret that you wish you hadn’t? Have you ever cheated on a test? Or a spouse? Have you read someone else’s e-mail, texts or diary? Is there a gift you wish you’d never received? Have you come into money that did you no good?
The main difference between the spells, palls, and poisoned apples that befall us and those that befall characters in stories is that we mostly brush those things off. For us, those things pass. In stories, they don’t. Or shouldn’t. Why? Because a spell is a golden plot opportunity. A pall can hang around, affecting many. A bite of a poisoned apple can have far-reaching consequences. Spells, palls and poisoned apples can be the impetus for a story. They can be a novel’s inciting incident, framework and main focus.
To profit from bewitchment and bad luck you don’t have to be writing a fairy tale. Any story can benefit. Spells can overtake anyone, or enchant anyplace. A buoyant or gloomy mood can brighten or darken any scene. Any protagonist can be cursed with knowledge, burdened with someone’s secret, or be punished for a poor choice. When the people in your story are in thrall, there’s a good chance that we will be enthralled too.
Here are some ways to work the magic:
- With whom or what can your protagonist (or any other character) be fascinated? With whom or what is he or she obsessed? What is it about this object of fascination that is so puzzling or pleasing? What’s the strangest way in which this fascination can take hold?
- How do we see that your protagonist is unable to control this fascination? What is the greatest length to which your protagonist might go to indulge or assuage this fascination? How does your protagonist try to quit this fascination, but fail?
- What does your protagonist lose because of this fascination? What’s the greatest possible cost? Make your protagonist pay.
- What past event haunts your protagonist? Twist it until it is utterly horrible, and/or has a devastating personal cost. How does it underlie your protagonist’s present actions? How many ways can this old event be reflected or symbolically recreated in the present?
- How is your protagonist (or any other character) charmed or cursed? What’s the biggest lucky reward or worst unlucky punishment? What object or event symbolizes, or even initiates, this charm or curse? Why is that object or event difficult to get rid of or forget?
- After a plot setback, send in a mood of gloom. How is it felt? How do your protagonist and others act differently? What events are cancelled? Who is unable to do normal things? Who gives up, quits or changes his or her life? How?
- Who in the story can forecast doom? Who believes in imminent disaster, looming chaos, or conspiracies? When is that person proved right? How many pieces of bad luck can you pile on?
- What lifts the gloom? What signals the arrival of a new day?
- By whom or what is your protagonist tempted? What is the smallest way in which your protagonist can surrender to temptation? (Just a little won’t hurt!) What is the biggest possible consequence for having done so?
- What piece of loaded information can your protagonist discover or learn? What danger does having this knowledge pose? What’s the worst trouble it can bring?
- How can your protagonist be sent to sleep or be blinded? What goes wrong as a result?
- In what way can your protagonist be sickened? What cures fail? What is the ultimate antidote and how can it be delayed?
- Can your protagonist be a subject of a prophecy, prediction, or premonition? Who knows in advance what your protagonist is in for? When can that warning be delivered?
There’s no end of fun you can have with spells, palls, and poisoned apples. They can work in any kind of story. There are many ways to enchant, obsess, haunt, charm, curse, cloud, tempt, blind, sicken, single out, or warn protagonists.
Such elements hark back to fairy tales, perhaps, but it’s funny…we don’t mind. Who doesn’t want to be swept away?
What spell, pall, or poisoned apple is at work in your story? Let us know!
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