Today’s episode is all about what happens when your characters start getting ideas and do something completely unexpected. Scary as it may seem, these moments are gold, and you’ve got to run with them. By allowing your character to act in a manner exactly opposite of what is expected, you give a new dimension to her. That’s the key to writing characters with depth.
f you want characters to feel real for the reader, you have to hint they have the potential to be the opposite of what they appear. As writers, we must look at who the character could be, not necessarily who the character already is. In this episode, we’ll look at two character archetypes and I’ll explain how this “opposite is possible” theory of character development actually works.
An unlikely hero, a “regular guy” character who rises to the occasion and is able to do something extraordinary. Examples: Frodo, Dorothy from Wizard of OZ, Harry Potter. To make this character come to life, ask yourself the following questions:
- What would it take for this character to “rise to the occasion”?
- What kind of situation can I put this character in that would make him or her go above and beyond?
- What’s this character’s breaking point, that button you can press to make him or her take action?
This is a character who is larger-than-life. Examples: Superman, James Bond. The key with these characters is to show a hint of their humanity and let the reader think: “I can relate to that.” Movie-makers call this the pet-the-dog moment. The pet-the-dog moment is where the tough guy protagonist pets a stray dog in the alley, smiles and says “Better get outta here, little Fella. There’s gonna be trouble.” That small action shows us the character’s human side and makes him sympathetic to the audience. When dealing with this character, ask yourself:
- What is this character’s soft spot or vulnerability?
- How can I create a pet-the-dog moment for this character to show this quality?
Why does the “opposite is possible” method work?
Because it shows the reader the character’s potential for change. We’ve all heard writing teachers tell us that our protagonist needs to change, but rarely do they ever tell us how to do it. By using this method, we give our characters the chance to change. In other words, the ordinary character needs to have the potential to do something extraordinary, the superhuman character must become at least a little bit human and vulnerable.
Sometimes it’s scary when our characters turn around and do the opposite of what we want them to do. I know when that happens to me, it seriously makes me question my sanity. But the truth is, when our characters misbehave or surprise us, that’s when we know that they’re becoming real.
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This weekend we wrap up the Conquer the Craft writing challenge, with a virtual writing retreat. The concept is simple: join the #CTC29 challenge list and you’ll get access to the Super-Secret Headquarters. All weekend long we’ll be posting videos on the headquarters page to keep you motivated while you write write write!
If you’ve done the DIY MFA Weekend Writing Sprint before, you already know how it works. If you’re new to this event or want to sign up, join the #CTC29 challenge and you’ll get all the details.
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