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Gold Happens When Your Characters are Wrong

November 16, 2012

Casey Martin and his golf cart

I don’t know why, but this morning on the way to the store, I thought about Casey Martin. In 2001, Casey Martin sued the PGA to be allowed to use a cart at events because he suffers from something called  Klippel Trenaunay Weber syndrome, a disease in which blood vessels or lymph nodes don’t form correctly. When Martin won his suit, it caused a controversy of sorts. After all, the golfers don’t just line up and make their shots, they have to walk the entire course. The walking–sometimes in really hot or really cold weather–adds to the physical and mental aspect of the game.

At the time, I thought–and still kind of think–that the Americans with Disabilities Act should not be applied to professional sports. After all, the pros are where the people go who master the things you and I struggle with. Making the pros requires a special helping of talent, along with a single-minded pursuit of perfection. The ten-thousand hour rule doesn’t apply to professional athletes. Their number is a lot higher.

And yet Casey Martin won his suit. And for a time, he competed with a golf cart. Although he qualified for the 2012 US Open, he’s largely been inactive on the professional circuit since 2007. He’s currently the men’s golf coach at University of Oregon. And somehow the PGA hasn’t disintegrated. And there aren’t legless kickers in the NFL or blind second basemen in Major League Baseball.

In other words, when I got irritated about Martin in 2001, I got upset about nothing.

And that’s something you might consider for your characters, as well. We–and our characters–typically fight battles based on what might happen. Except for Miss Cleo, we don’t have the ability to see into the future to determine the exact results. We can only use our best guesses about that.

Maybe your character’s daughter was dating a guy he considered to be a useless ne’er do well. And then they get married and he tolerates the kid. And when troubles come, the kid stands tall and holds the family together. Or perhaps a work re-organization happens and your character is terrified of being made obsolete. Instead, she’s invigorated by the new opportunity and enjoys work more than ever, in spite of being in her sixties.

Being right is boring. It’s when your characters are wrong that the fun starts. When they realize they were wrong is when juicy internal conflict happens.

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