Character as Contradiction

Let’s examine this more in depth, shall we?

Recently I mentioned that in order to write a truly three-dimensional character, you can follow the clue, “Dimension is contradiction.” What that means, of course, is that a dimensional character, a deep character, will be a contradiction of themselves. Every real person is. I am shy and bubbly, insecure and confidant, big-hearted and grasping, needy and giving. You see? So you want your character to be a skinny, short, bald, soft spoken math teacher, eh? Make them the most confidant, charming, funny, engaging teacher in the world. Pick a trait and braid in its opposite.

Think about the best characters you’ve read or seen. Wilson Fisk is the head of an evil, violent, heartless mafia. He’s a kindhearted, lost, vulnerable boy. Long John Silver is a pirate, but he is charming and genial, the hardest worker on the ship, optimistic. Inigo Montoya is a mercenary, an assassin, a man whose life is driven by the desire to kill the six fingered man. He’s also the most open hearted, tender, passionate and young-at-heart character in the film.

Notice how most of the examples above are villains. That’s because most writers aren’t willing to take their protagonists to extremes of character the way they are with their antagonist.

Speaking of villains again, take Episode VII. I was appalled by Kylo Ren until he took off his mask. Until that point, he had been a cliché. One dimensional, an imitation of the “big bad” from the original Star Wars. But when he took off his mask, he became three dimensional. He was a contradiction of himself. Here was a young, geeky, uncertain, human face. A young man barely out of adolescence trying too hard. He is the opposite of his position, his role. So he becomes a real character, and from that moment on, I loved him.

Jim, from Treasure Island, is a boy—the most helpless member of the crew, but he saves all of them. Flynn Rider is a thief and a liar, but he’s bubbly and funny and eager. The list goes on and on forever.

You might think your character is in a good place, and you’re probably right. But if you examine them and don’t see very much contradiction, I guarantee they could get even better.


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