Last time, we talked about how to deepen characters and how EVERYBODY LIES (thank you Dr. House). Lies are critical for great fiction. To become excellent writers, we need to become great secret-keepers. Denial is more than a river in Africa 😉 .
I’d started a series on this a few months ago and Shingles got in the way of the next posts I had planned. But, the first of the intended series was about THE WOUND. Check it out if you have a bit of time.
Most of us don’t go around lying because we are pathological liars. We lie because of our wounds. And, if you read the post, wounds don’t have to be big to be BIG.
Newer writers sometimes think we have to have a rape or death for it to be “enough” but never underestimate “smaller” wounds. They are far more common, very damaging, and readers have a lot likelier time empathizing and thus connecting.
Though I had my fair share of big wounds in life, strangely enough, the small ones did just as much damage and maybe even more. It was the jokes about me being ugly or fat from family members or schoolmates. It was being teased that my clothes were from Kmart (had a single mom).
It was playing sports, competing in martial arts, or being first chair in clarinet and playing a key solo…yet every kid had a parent/family member in the audience but me.
These wounds drove me to being more of a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, and insecure about my body and looks. One can only be called “Thunder Thighs” so many times. To this day, I refuse to wear shorts even though, when people made these comments, I was 11% body fat. I just happen to be built for strength and “willowy” is an adjective that will never describe me.
Yet, though the wounds did their fair share of damage, they also created a person who learned to be self-sufficient VERY early….which is a mixed bag. Also, I learned to ignore other people’s opinions. This helped A LOT when I was blogging about how social media would change the world and had others calling me a lunatic.
But, I can also say there are times I maybe should have been better at listening to counsel and opinions. Learning to discern when to listen and when to ignore is still a struggle for me…because of the WOUNDS.
Beyond “The Wound”
Today, we’re going to explore an extension of the WOUND. The BLIND SPOT. There are no perfect personalities. All great character traits possess a blind spot. The loyal person is a wonderful friend, but can be naive and taken advantage of.
The take-charge Alpha leader can make a team successful, but also inadvertently tromp over feelings or even fail to realize that others have great ideas, too. Maybe even BETTER ideas.
Often the antagonist (Big Boss Troublemaker) is a mirror of the protagonist, especially in the beginning of the story. In the first book of the series I am currently writing, Romi (my protagonist) is LOYAL. She believes everyone has some good and the world will reward you if you simply are good and work hard.
How she ends up in trouble and the number one suspect in an Enron-like scam is that she trusted the wrong people and they let her take the fall for the scheme.
To arc and be able to beat the antagonist and solve the core story problem—Find money and clear her name—she’s going to have to grow up. Her bright-eyed naiveté is an asset. Others (ALLIES) gravitate to her because she is such a Pollyanna. They are there to buttress her weaknesses and even mentor her growth.
Yet, by story’s end, she cannot be the same. She’s going to have to be more realistic and see truth about people in order to come out alive.
Conversely, the antagonist is betting that the original blind spot used to make Romi the sucker will remain. The antagonist is banking that she will refuse the call and thus not grow. The antagonist’s blind spot is pride and opportunism. Being able to manipulate.
Yet as Romi grows, she learns to see who people truly ARE, not what she simply wants to see and that is a large reason the antagonist fails.
To use an example from a movie we have likely all seen. In Top Gun, what makes Maverick the best pilot is his complete lack of fear. He has the cajones to do what other pilots wouldn’t ever consider.
He’s driven by his wound, the lie about his father. This has made him one of the best pilots (trying to overcome his tainted history and impress a ghost) but he’s missed the lesson on how to be part of a team.
Yes, maybe breaking all the rules makes you “the best”, but it can get others killed. It isn’t all about HIM.
This is why when I refer to “the antagonist” I prefer my made-up term Big Boss Troublemaker. The antagonist isn’t always “bad.” The antagonist is simply the person responsible for creating the core story problem.
Iceman isn’t a bad guy. He isn’t evil with a plan to take over the world or infiltrate the Top Gun school as a sleeper terrorist.
He’s simply a by-the-book fighter pilot who believes Maverick shouldn’t be there. He loathes Maverick because he thinks he’s a danger to himself and others (and, frankly, he has a very valid point).
The plot provides the crucible. Maverick butts heads with Iceman over and over in a um, man-part-measuring contest. But what happens when Maverick loses Goose? Crisis.
A hard event (PLOT) has now forced Maverick to face the truth about himself. For the first time, he SEES the blind spot Iceman and others have been pointing out (which has been the core source of conflict). This loss forces him to go searching for answers deeper than buzzing the tower.
He finally recognizes others might actually have a point.
The beauty of this movie and why it’s remained so timeless (aside from hot guys in Navy dress) is it’s a movie exploring people. Real, broken, hurting people blind to who they really are. By story’s end? Everybody arcs.
Maverick learns there are other people in the sky besides HIM and that he is part of a TEAM. Iceman lightens up and recognizes that Maverick, too, has a point. Sometimes one just has to toss out the rulebook.
Thus, when creating characters in any story, to deepen them, we need to KNOW them. What DRIVES THEM? How would they react according to their past, their wounds and their blind spot?
As a writing exercise, take a scenario. Maybe an attempted mugging. How would different characters react?
For instance, when I was in college, I taught Jui-Jitsu during the day and sold papers in the evening. One dark winter night a drunk tried to mug me in a dark apartment complex and take my hard case briefcase.
Because of MY background, growing up powerless and determined to be in CONTROL, I’d taken years of martial arts. Also, when I was eight, I witnessed my 6’8″ male family member raise his hand to hit my mom while she was cooking….and she beat his ass out the front door wielding a mad hot cast iron skillet.
This left a mark (though likely more on said family member).
Thus, 12 years later when a MUCH larger drunk came up behind and tried to mug ME, he got beaten heartily with a briefcase and then chased until I lost him.
But why did I fight, not just hand over the briefcase?
I’d always been POOR. I was very poor in college and had worked long hours to buy a really nice briefcase in hopes of landing a better job than selling and delivering papers. There was no money in the case. I could have handed it over but because of MY wounds, the briefcase was more than a briefcase.
Clearly my BLIND SPOT is I have an alligator mouth and a pekinese @$$. I could have lost and ended up hurt or dead.
But what about a person with a different background? A different wound? A different blind spot?
What if the person mugged was a trust fund baby who could easily buy another briefcase? Or a person who’d been beaten badly in formative years and would do anything to avoid experiencing that pain? What if the person was elderly? There are a lot of variables that make a VERY rich palette to create characters with LIFE.
Think of your own life and personality? What is your greatest strength? How does it create your greatest weakness? What is YOUR blind spot. Play a little armchair psychiatrist and what you find might be really interesting 😉 . Feel free to share about you or even your favorite characters you’ve read or even written.
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