I talked earlier this week about characters who wear masks. We all wear masks…. that’s a great way to flesh out a character.
Another is related to the basic concept of true, Greek tragedy: your character has two obligations, two duties, the fulfillment of which are mutually exclusive. And that’s what I want to discuss here.
You don’t have to have a character torn between two moral obligations to make him or her feel human. Maybe that’s too heavy. Maybe that’s too complex or too specific a situation to make work.
The fact is, life is all about choices and change. That’s true for all of us, and it should be true for your characters.
When a character has to choose between two good things, two opportunities, that makes him or her human by forcing him or her into a human situation. It allows readers not only to feel for the person, but it also allows naturally for character development and for your readers to get to know your character. Whatever choice they make, that choice says a lot about them.
The same goes when that choice is between two not-so-great alternatives. What is the lesser of two evils? If we have to take a hit somewhere, how do we determine where is best? Do we take, perhaps, a choice that affects us less but will affect others more, or vice versa?
This is one reason I think I love legal dramas…. whether or not to testify, whether to take a plea deal or to take a chance with the jury, those kinds of decisions are tough. They make us consider what really matters to us and force us to confront our demons.
This is a great reminder of how plot and character development don’t have to be-and if fact, rarely are- mutually exclusive. Plot sparks and causes character development. The character development that ensues affects the plot, because it changes how the character responds to the situations around him or her.