You Must Know the Inadequacies
In Part II of this series, Character Development: Using the Combination of Lack and Compensation, I pointed out that in order to use the lack and compensation strategy in character development, you must know what inadequacies (real or perceived) plague your character. The way you will know this is because you have invested time to create the backstory.
In that blog post, we looked at four areas in which you can discover your character’s uniqueness. They are:
At this point in character development you have completed laying out a good solid foundation of exactly who this person is. Now you can delve into devising the compensations this character might resort to. This character needs to substitute for what he hasn’t got. He is going to pay the price to make up for the lack he senses.
Basically (and you know this if you have studied even a smidgeon of psychology), the choices are:
Will your character hide, duck, cower, withdraw? Or will your character jump into the fray, come out swinging, and blow the lid off every situation and/or relationship in his life? You must know.
Not Always Physical
The fighter does not always do so in a physical manner. Perhaps he seizes upon some specific thing; some act or performance which he thinks (he hopes) will fill that void he feels inside.
The one who takes flight may resort to avoiding responsibility, weaseling out of commitments, making excuses, and so on. You get the picture.
The tendency to fight or take flight will be reflected in this character’s behavior. Back to that old writing cliché – which is nearly always true – it’s more powerful to show than to tell. Let the reader see how this character is dealing with these challenges through action, behavior, and dialogue.
As these character attributes – based on lack and compensation – develop and grow, your responsibility will be to ensure that character remains consistent through the story.
But, you may be thinking, isn’t my main character supposed to change in the course of the story?
You’re right. However, let the change occur due to believable events and circumstances. (Believable being the key word here.) This differs greatly from the novice novelist whose character changes personality chameleon-like, and thus leaves the reader bewildered, confused, and sometimes disgruntled.
Having the meek, cowering character suddenly turn into a fighter is not always believable. Let the challenges of the story box him into a corner where he is literally driven to stand up and fight. Now it’s believable.
Characters Who Fascinate and Excite
As the novelist, you want to create the character who will fascinate and excite your reader. You want that reader to closely relate to your character. You want your reader to care about your character. To care so much that he cannot stop turning pages to see what happens next.
A tip for outside reading for any novelist is to read a few basic books on psychology. Believe it – as a novelist you can never know too much about people. Of course you can glean much by simply being observant. But that doesn’t always give you the “behind-the-scenes” glimpse as the study of psychology will.
Character development, in my opinion, is one of the most fun (the funnest?) facets of writing a novel. A great plot is only as good as the actors who play out the story on the pages of the book. Make sure your characters – your actors – are alive, vibrant, recognizable, and believable. You will achieve this because you have many tools in your novel-writing toolbox. And one of those tools will be the lack and compensation combination strategy.
Use it wisely; use it often.
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.