In last week’s blog, I discussed fiction novel character development techniques. I ended the blog by stating, “Make your characters real and believable by first making them real to you.”
An evolving fiction plot is not very interesting unless there is conflict and some sort of change in your protagonist by the end of the story. It could be the resolution of a world-changing event in a thriller, finding the killer in a murder mystery, or some major change in your main character’s world or their specific world view that makes the story interesting.
The problem arises when an author attempts to make a character believable by making an ordinary character do extraordinary (heroic) things. How does the writer make such fiction believable?
The main character in my most recent novel is simply a guy with a troubled past trying to do the right thing. The problem is the bad guys keep getting in the way of my protagonist’s normal life. My protagonist has two choices: ignore a world-changing event and hide his head in the sand, or step up to right the wrongs.
My task as a writer is to take this character who craves a normal existence and place him in situations that challenge his entire idea of what a normal life should be and force him to make choices he’d rather not make. My protagonist is a successful pharmacist who owns a very specialized pharmacy practice; and, in the last two novels, he’s turned his back on his everyday world to fight villains and avert sinister events that could have global consequences.
How does a writer make that monumental leap, and successfully take the reader along, in a journey to evolve this everyday guy into a hero, and still make it believable?
The answer lies in how the first act of the novel is handled—how one builds a character’s world in the first 25% of the novel by drizzling in enough history about a protagonist’s life so that an advanced or second level of background on this character is achieved. This is how a normal character’s heroics come off as believable.
In last week’s blog, I stated that I develop characters by using a 3P Model: building on the physical aspects of a character, and including some important psychological aspects and specific philosophies of the character.
Regarding advanced character development, the writer must focus on specific traits and skills that the character might possess, but that aren’t often visible, to meet the challenges that the writer presents for that character.
These traits and skills might include:
- Specific past traumas (both physical and psychological) that create specialized motivations to act out of the ordinary in certain situations. For instance, an adult abused as a child will react differently to seeing a child being yanked roughly by the arm than a person who grew up in a loving, caring family.
- If your character has hidden skills developed in a previous job or an earlier environment, those skills are never forgotten or lost and can re-emerge as necessary when the character is confronted with a life-threatening event.
- Hidden secrets can fester over time and force a character to react differently to tragic events. Creating an abnormal past for your protagonist allows secrets that should remain hidden to evolve into heroic actions when a character is confronted with saving his or her own life, or the life of a loved one.
- Specific, deep-seated feelings can often explain why an outwardly normal person might act in an extraordinary way regarding a tragic event.
I delight in writing fiction and in creating situations for my protagonist that goes beyond the limits of his everyday world and forces him to act in extraordinary ways. To do that in a believable fashion, I must first load the character’s background with secret histories, hidden skills and past experiences that the everyday person has never been exposed to.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!