Do you have a good friend who has a character trait YOU want? Do you look at him and think, How does he do that? Or, I wish I had her sense of humor. Or, I love how calm she is.
Often times when we look for a marriage partner we look for someone who compliments our personality. We’re attracted to someone who is different than we are because we value the characteristics in them that we don’t have. It’s not until we get to know that person that we see their flaws. But, trust me, they have them. We all do. And sometimes it’s those qualities we love in them the most that end up driving us CRAZY.
For instance, I like to plan ahead–sometimes way ahead. But I have a friend who waits until the last minute to do almost everything. (I call her Last Minute Lucy.) I love how calm and relaxed she is about life because I can’t DO that, but I wish I could. She’s spontaneous and laid-back–unlike me. But as often as I admire her for those characteristics, there are times when Last Minute Lucy drives me crazy because she’s always late and never prepared.
When you’re creating your characters, look for personality traits that are opposites. This can initially attract two people–especially in a romance, but can create conflict between them later and help illustrate their flaws, too.
Let me demonstrate with The HUNGER GAMES.
In THE HUNGER GAMES Peeta can’t shoot an arrow to save his life, or anyone else’s, but he’s great at disguising his body with art. (Notice how Suzanne Collins gave us a hint of this early in the movie when Katniss sees Peeta’s art work. This is a must. You can’t give your character a special talent at the end of the story without giving the reader a glance at that ability early on.) Katniss, on the other hand, is an avid archer. She’s a provider and a survivor. Just like in real life, none of us have the same abilities.
Peeta plays the camera, schmoozing the audience, knowing if he does he wins fans. He’s a natural performer and is open about his feelings. He’s open about his emotions. Whereas, Katniss guards her feelings and is less emotional. She believes showing them is a sign of weakness. She’s also more of an introvert. She’s the opposite of Peeta in that she doesn’t want to play the camera. This opposition creates tension, which every story needs.
These are noticeable differences, but what about the differences we can’t see? Sometimes you need to dig deeper into your characters’ emotional innards to understand their personalities. Why do they behave a certain way? Knowing their “junk in the trunk” will help make them more three dimensional to your readers.
Peeta and Katniss come from two different socio-economical backgrounds. Peeta doesn’t have to feed his family and save them from starvation. He’s one class above Katniss. This doesn’t create a lot of tension in this story, but it has in other stories like West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. Noting these internal differences will help you find another way to make your characters spar on the page.
Coming from a different class typically changes a character’s value system, too. When you create characters who have different values you can show opposing sides of the story, which creates conflict. This also gives the reader a look into a point of view they might not have considered. Know who your characters are so you can show each side.
One thing is for certain–a good book typically has opposing characters with different values and personality styles, so make them different and give them something to fight about.
In what other ways are Katniss and Peeta different?
What characteristics do you admire in others?