The key to writing a narrative
If you have ever been in the middle of a manuscript and feel flaccid, congratulations. You are a writer! One of the questions I ask when I get stuck in the middle of a story is, "How can I make this character worse?"
One of the key elements you may be using is exactly what we want to avoid so much every day: aggressive people.
How can an aggressive character shift your character's arc, keep the action moving and deepen the subject? Read on to find out.
Characters who are not facing major challenges will not act bravely to get what they want. Instead of making it easier for our characters, we have to worsen the conditions for them.
One of the ways you can make it worse for your character is to add or move a character that attacks the protagonist. It is even better if it is not the antagonist because the character expects tension from the antagonist. Let's take a look at how adding an aggressive character can rev up the middle of your story and enlarge your character's arc.
Define the character of abrasion
The word abrasive makes me think of sandpaper – something that causes friction. When I think of an aggressive person, I imagine the kind of people who make me the most uncomfortable: people who cut in the cafe when there is a long line, or people who sit behind me while they are driving, and tell me how to get there better I go.
Abrasive characters don't have to be angry, noisy, or even rude. You just have to speak and act in such a way that my day becomes more complicated and it becomes more difficult or frustrating to achieve my goal.
If you're starting to think of aggressive characters, here are some important ways to find and use such a character when you're writing in the middle of a story.
Undermine your character's strength
In the middle of a story, a protagonist tries to solve his problem. He draws on his strengths and usually goes the easiest way to get what he wants. One way to complicate your journey is to look at your character's strength and add a character who is stronger in those particular traits or abilities.
in the The princess brideInigo Montoya tries to avenge his father's death while supporting himself as a mercenary swordsman. When ordered to kill the man in black, he starts sword fighting with his non-dominant hand. The man in black defeats him even if both fight with their dominant hand. This complicates Inigo’s journey.
Find your character's strength and use a supporting character or a new character to undermine their strength and to outperform or defeat them.
As part of the character sheet, defeat or frustration related to strength is demoralizing and worrying. The character learns that he has to rely on more than his strengths to get what he wants.
Loot your character's weakness
We generally try to hide and avoid our weaknesses, especially when we are under pressure. It can be difficult to limit yourself to one area to find an aggressive character related to a protagonist's weakness. I am terrible in a number of things every day. Choose a weakness that the character needs to improve to solve his problem.
For example, suppose I have a character named Chloe who has to land and keep a job to repay a dubious loan she took out with poor advice. Chloe's weakness is making decisions, and she is overly dependent on other people's input, which has obviously made her difficult.
To add an aggressive character, I could give Chloe an employee she needs to succeed. Then I could make this employee more indecisive than Chloe and frustrate her at every turn. Alternatively, I could introduce a demanding boss who assumes that her indecisiveness is incompetence, which jeopardizes her position in the company.
In both situations, the aggressive character chases her weakness (albeit unwittingly) and forces her to face it. When she makes small decisions, the character arc increases because she is forced to act and change to pursue the goal.
Complicate a situation
Sometimes an aggressive person questions a character's deeply held beliefs. This is particularly effective if this is done thematically, ie the interaction with the abrasive character runs parallel to the larger conflict.
Let's say I have a doctor who loses the love of his life in a murder. He wants to take the killer to court, but will end up trying to take revenge instead. Through this character sheet, the doctor discovers his ethical limits and asks how strongly he believes in “doing no harm”.
In the middle of the story, I could imagine an aggressive character who offers to locate the killer with less than ethical means. Or the doctor might discover that one of his beloved terminal patients killed someone and asks for forgiveness.
Both abrasive signs present a dilemma that requires selection, and decisions determine the sign sheet.
Animate the limp middle of your story
Writing the middle of a story – and avoiding a sagging action – is a nuisance to every writer. Abrasive people may not be fun in real life, but in your stories they can give your protagonist the perfect boost to make difficult decisions and grow as a character.
Conflicts may not be fun, but they are certainly interesting. Why don't you turn your readers over with aggressive characters?
Who irritates you personally or professionally and why? Can you imagine protagonists in stories that have to deal with aggressive characters? Share in the comments.
You have two options for today's practice.
If you have work in progress, look at your protagonist. What are your weaknesses? What are your strengths? Create an aggressive character that frustrates them and write a scene in which they interact.
You have no work in progress? No problem. Here's your call: An artist is preparing a piece that she hopes will win an upcoming competition. She is a creative genius, but she is not very well organized and she struggles to meet the deadlines. Create an aggressive character to complicate her story and write the scene.
Take fifteen minutes to write. When you're done, share your scene in the comments below and leave feedback for your peers.
Sue Weems is a writer, teacher and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. If she doesn't rationalize her love of brackets (and dramatic side notes), she'll follow a sailor around the world with her four children, two dogs, and an incredibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.