Posted by Lynne Griffin
I'm a confronter. In the nicest sort of way, I encourage open conversation between my children and my husband and I. Conflict in our family happens, but it doesn't stick around very long because it rarely has the chance to get under anyone's skin. Conflict in fiction is a different matter entirely. The more it lingers on the page the better.
I've recommended John Truby's book, The Anatomy of Story, before. If you haven't read the chapter on character yet, you should. The most useful section of this highly useful material is about opponents and allies.
Opponents as you know are those characters that are in conflict with what the protagonist wants and desires. Reading Truby, you'll get lots of ideas on how to create opponent characters without merely putting them in the physical path of your protagonist. Be creative.
Allies are those characters that assist the protag. Okay, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. But what I love about Truby's content here, and what I think has added depth to my second novel, is the introduction of the concepts of fake-ally and fake-opponent.
Like these labels suggest, some characters may appear to the reader to be one thing and then turn out to be another all together. With some slight of hand writing and a few reversals in plot, you've added more conflict, more texture, and more layers to your novel.
Creating three dimensional characters by adding in some complexity in the form of wants and needs of minor characters is a great way to up the stakes and increase the tension. Conflict in your family may not be desirable, yet conflict in your novel is a marvelous thing. It keeps the reader reading, and it gets the reader raving.
So take a few minutes of your writing routine to conjure a fake-opponent and/or a fake-ally for your work-in-progress. The oh-so-helpful mother-in-law who loves the children, but inserts herself too prominently in her son's marriage, manipulating his relationship to her advantage. Or the pain-in-the-neck neighbor who drives one character mad when she catches her ear each morning on the way to her car, but who ultimately gives the protagonist vital information, propelling the plot forward, her noisy traits coming in handy. These should not be contrived characters, there for your convenience. They should be characters that offer something unique to the narrative, something the story can not do without.
Have fun with this writing exercise. And if you have any examples of these types of characters, feel free to share them in the comment section.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Posted by Lynne Griffin