Today, I stopped to think about the mechanics of creating a good main character. The rules are clear all around they must have a want and a need, they must drive the story and not be bystanders in the narrative, and the audience must care about them…you know the spiel.
Today it dawned on me in a very simplistic way, they must be consistent. Their value system and reasons for existing must be consistent. They can’t be wishy-washy.
But how can a consistent character change? Because that’s also important! Our protagonist changes according to the challenge and within the paradigm of his value system. After all, they are human. They see themselves and understand that the position they are in may require more than they are and so maybe they relent, but not so far that the change feels unbelievable. Unless the challenge was transformative and eroded value systems and is designed to leave them unhinged.
I think that is the thing for me characters are like doors in that way. They are mounted onto a frame by hinges and they either open close or are left ajar, some get stuck some never close some have a stopper that prevents them from going in either direction. The story reflects that movement and though they may change or shift they still remain hinged. Unless it’s a story about the door being removed or turned around. But either way, they remain with their hinges.
One value system may override another. And it’s true this may mean their hinge may not be the focus until they have been moved. We as storytellers may never say that this is whom we see them as until the challenge has been answered the character shifts. That’s the mechanics of change to me. But essentially people are who they are. They are consistently themselves, even as they change.
Recently, I read a story by Chimanda Addiche Ngozi, “Cell One”, where her main character was a young man who was easily influenced; however, we spent the entire story thinking of him as a thief. His grand moment of change came when he was positively influenced. He remained himself but his values of being influenced overrode his negative characteristics. He was redeemed in the eyes of the narrator and the audience by the very thing that incarcerated him.
This is no different from our parents pointing at our good qualities in hope that they will pull us from our darkness, or the bad ones saving us in times of need.
Consistency. People are who they are. So let them be. Reveal it all. Then slowly build us into the change.
Usually, failure to do this is what your editor means when she says, “Yeah, no I never saw this coming. Was he always this guy?”
Make sense? If not let’s talk about it.
#Characterization #storywriting #editing #writing #people #change