Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fake Out

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.


mohanley5 said...

Thanks for the great advice, Lynne. I'm just getting back into my wip, after taking a break from writing in circles. Last night, I rewrote a few scenes, giving a minor character more of a role in provoking my protagonist. It feels like it gives the scenes more depth and will help me to strengthen some weak spots further along in the story.

(PS. I was having horrible back pain over the past few days, and decided to write because I needed a more productive distraction than T3. Well, the pain actually fueled the conflict my protagonist was having with her "ex", and helped her come back with some nice flip responses in the confrontation. Never expected to find a silver lining in back pain! :)

As always, I appreciate everything that the writers group shares, to motivate and help us improve on our work!


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks, Mo. Sorry for your troubles, but so happy you have a positive attitude. And congrats on getting back to your WIP. Conflict any way we get it is a good writing that is.

Hope you feel better soon. Lynne

Joanne said...

Hi Lynne, Like this post, which got me to consider my fiction ms. Though my protagonist does have minor opponents, it seems her biggest opponent might be herself. Have you seen this done before? It isn't until she takes drastic steps to change her behavior that the route to her wants is cleared.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Lynne, this is great--as you know I'm in the midst of revision and it'll give me another approach to explore.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

In my opinion character transformation comes because of the internal struggle, whatever that may be. But it's not enough. Readers want to see high stakes, tension and conflict--anything you can dish out upon your protagonist--so that they can see what motivates the transformation to occur. My question to you would be, what life circumstances, which relationships cause her to take those drastic steps to change?

Always more to think about. Lynne

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hope those revisions are going well, and I'm glad I gave you some food for thought. You can do it! Keep us posted on your progress.


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