Through deep, pervasive emotions, obsession controls one’s decisions and actions. It pushes our protagonists to the brink and, in doing so, endangers and pushes characters that populate our protagonists’ worlds to their limits. Obsession is the seed of success and disaster, sometimes both. Interesting.
What are some objects of obsession? Ego? Looks? Lust? Careers? Enemies? Power? Vengeance? Wealth? Take a peek at our literary forerunners.
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”
Can we say creepy? Nabokov takes obsession on, giving Humbert Humbert the most despicable obsession of all—pedophilia.
Faulkner’s Quentin, on the other hand, is obsessed with his sister, Caddy, though a closer look suggests that he’d been manicured to fixate on family honor and his obsession with the promiscuous Caddy is a twisted, illogical expression of his desire to protect her.
Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein finds success through his obsession to create life and ends up destroying it when his creation doesn’t conform to his scheme. For Ahab, it’s a white whale with a past. Dorian Gray is obsessed with youth. Victor Hugo’s Javert picks up the gauntlet of duty with a fanatical devotion. Fitzgerald, Williams, and Miller are renowned for characters that fixate on the past.
Remove a character’s balance and restraint and you’re sure to come up with plot points. Think creatively. Not all obsessions are dark. What if a character was obsessed with mercy? What if the lives of others depended on his or her ability to exercise justice and discipline? What if generosity were taken to the extreme? How about hope? Use your imagination and watch the stories unfold.
Make a list of possible fixations and travel each to their ultimate breaking point.