|Photo credit: sally_monster on Flickr|
In short, we love stories with contrast.
Contrast is an element of writing that is not often discussed, but is key to layered, interesting stories. It helps us emphasize strong emotion, highlight characters and can even be worked into symbol and theme.
While I can’t cover the full spectrum of contrast opportunities in one post, here are some key ways you can incorporate contrast within your cast of characters.
- Personality. If you take a look at just about any famous group of characters, chances are you’ll find quite a bit of contrast within the group. One of my favorite examples is Gimli and Legolas from The Lord of the Rings. Physical differences aside, the two could not be more different, and yet they work side by side and even become friends by the end of the trilogy.
- Voice. Contrasting voices will manifest in primarily two different ways in novels: through dialogue and POV switching. While the much more common method is through dialogue (as not all novels have changes in POV), both can be highly effective to highlight contrasts in character, in this case Artemis Fowl and two gnomes Pip and Kip.
Here’s an example from The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer (page 49):
“‘Listen to me, you lowlife. This is Artemis Fowl. You may have heard of me.’
‘Oooh, Artemis Fowl. Wonder boy. We’ve heard of you alright, haven’t we Kip?’
Kip nodded, dancing a little jig. ‘Artemis Fowl, the Oirish boy who chased leprechauns. Sure and begorrah everyone has head of that smarty-pants.’”
I think it goes without saying that no one will be mistaking Artemis’ speech for either gnome.
- Morals/ worldview. The great thing about contrasting morals and ideologies in stories is that it makes for great tension and conflict between characters. A great example is in Season 7 of House, when medical student Martha Masters is added to the team. Masters is a brilliant young doctor, but she follows a very stringent moral code—one that frequently clashes with House’s less than traditional (and sometimes legal) methods.
These are just a couple examples of how you can introduce contrast within your cast to help flesh out your world and create more opportunities for conflict. When used correctly (and not overdone), contrast can help to make your WIP more dynamic and interesting and open up doors of opportunity for your plot.
Now it’s your turn: Do you utilize contrast amongst your characters? What examples of contrasting characters can you think of?