Character Development: Using the Combination of Lack and Compensation Part II

Be A NovelistPlotting Technique

In my last post, Character Development: Using the Combination of Lack and Compensation Part I, we talked about how our character’s inadequacies (or lack) drive him to make up (or compensate) for the lack.

When you think through this plotting technique, when you become more aware of it, you’ll begin to use it to greater effects in your story.

Think about how you’ll know your character’s inadequacies. Obviously, they don’t simply appear on page 25 of the novel when the main character is thrown into a crisis. All of this is designed and created long before page 25.

Using Backstory

These inadequacies – that work to make your character who he is – were resident in the backstory. And the backstory will have been developed by you as the author (hopefully) long before the novel was started. (For more on backstory check out this blog from my Be A Novelist archives.)

Two people when faced with the same calamity, the same challenge, the same problem, may react in two completely opposite ways. Why? In real life you simply scratch your head. But in your novel, you will know why your character reacts in a certain way in any given situation.

How Attitudes are Formed

Your character’s attitudes are the dynamic aspects of his being – his very personality. And his attitudes were formed from his life experiences; which you know because you created his backstory.

From this point we could go off several different directions. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s look at four specific areas of uniqueness that can define your character:


Tall or short, fat or thin, pretty or homely, scarred, crippled, beauty queen, over-sized nose, weak eyes… The list is endless. What does your character have to deal with in the physical arena that sets him apart? And how does he deal with it?

EnvironmentBe A Novelist

One person is comfortable out in the stable mucking out horse stalls; another is comfortable navigating the busy subway in New York City. Whether the environment is familiar or unfamiliar to that individual can determine whether or not your character is feeling inadequate.


Experience and environment are close in similarity and yet different. The environment can set the stage for the experiences. The one mucking out the horse stalls may hate every minute of it because he’s forced to be there by a domineering father who refuses to let him leave. The environment can be the breeding ground for whichever direction you would like your character’s experiences to grow.


Ideas form and grow within your character during his past life – ideas which may be radically challenged and opposed throughout the development of the novel. The young man mucking out the stalls may think he has what it takes to make it in the big city. But when he gets his wish, when he’s in the big city, all his preconceived ideas may wither and fade.

Know Your Character’s Areas of Uniqueness

All of these factors work together to form your character’s thoughts, feelings, and actions (behavior). This is why it is so beneficial during the character development stage, that you survey and know your character’s areas of uniqueness. From this layer of information his secret fears, and feelings of inadequacy, will begin to emerge.

Be A NovelistDuring this process you will sense your character begin to take on form and a distinct personality. At this point that character will now appear to move independently under his own steam. In other words, your character has now sprung to life on the pages!

As a successful novelist, this is what you’re after!

More on this subject in Part III of Character Development: Using the Combination of Lack and Compensation. Be A Novelist

Coming Soon

The first two titles in the Norma Jean Lutz Classic Collection will be available in print form.

Flower in the Hills and Tiger Beetle at Kendallwood will soon be in bound copies.

Watch for upcoming announcements. 

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Norma Jean Lutz

Be A Novelist


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