A Novel Approach

Characters are no more interesting than the conflict that defines them. In character-driven fiction the most interesting characters are those whose conflict is that they turn out to be different than anyone thinks they are, including themselves.

Let’s consider a character who says: “I’m going to shoot that SOB right between the eyes if it’s the last thing I do.”

If in answering your dozen questions about your character (see Chapter 13) you have defined him as a combat infantry squad leader, or a deer hunter stalking the big one, and their greatest achievements in life are great marksmanship and a wish for omnipotence centered on taking a life here and there, dialogue about shooting something is probably not unexpected.

But if that character is an 87 year old nun who is having internal dialogue because she has decided that she has had just about enough of the bishop’s arrogance – now that’s someone I want to know more about.

This kind of character conflict is ‘man versus self.’ Revisiting ideas from several weeks ago, we saw that what makes Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice) interesting is more than just her clever observations as a woman who would not be treated with disrespect by a rich man, and the Count of Monte Cristo more than just his tragedies too numerous to recount here. Both of them became classic characters because the resolutions of their stories came with their own realizations of how wrong they had been all along.

This is a good place to restate the classic rule of character development: no hero should be without a flaw, no villain without a bit of good in his heart. Each must have something in his character that is different than our expectations, and his.

So, is that nun really who we think she is? Or has she just had a change of habit?

Read on…


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