In the game of chess, the bishop moves diagonally, either on light squares or dark squares. Its reach can be long and far and can seemingly come out of nowhere to capture a piece. Like the knight, it can fork very well because of its long reach. Due to the diagonal nature of its moves, bishops stay either on white squares or dark squares throughout the entire game, the only piece required to do so. That means that the two bishops work together to help the player achieve his goals.
Characters are a lot like that. There are protagonists and antagonists. Together, they work to create a rich story. Though it may be tempting to place characters in the good bin or the bad bin, keep in mind one thing. No one is all good, and no one is all bad.
Protagonists. When I was growing up in the eighties, Sweet Valley High was one of my favorite book series. If you read any of those books during that time period, you got very familiar with Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, the lead characters. After reading a bunch of them, I got really irritated. Why? Elizabeth seemed to be all good with no dark side about her. Instead, the dark side seemed to come from her sister. This lack of depth created very cardboard characters who didn’t go that deep. In my own work, I strive to create protagonists that aren’t perfect. For example, in Panama Deception, Alex Thornton is my protagonist. It’s easy to cheer for her when she searches for a friend of hers who has been kidnapped. But she has shortcomings as well. One of those is that, due to some bad assumptions on her part, she harbors an unfair grudge against a former best friend.
Antagonists. On the flip side, antagonists oppose the protagonist. They don’t have to be villains necessarily, just in opposition to the protagonist. Again, it’s helpful to create them so they have the negative traits necessary to be an antagonist yet also have some potentially redeeming qualities. One of my favorite antagonists I’ve created is Makmoud Hidari, the antagonist in Operation Shadow Box who will also be making more appearances in the Last Chance series. Yes, Makmoud wishes to thwart the plans of Victor Chavez, the protagonist, yet his also has some odd twists of compassion, like a seemingly protective instinct for those who are his hostages—unless they cross him. Still, he’s cold and calculating when need be. In all honesty, he’d be a character with whom I’d like to have coffee—in a well-lit area, of course.
There are instances when you may want to create a villain who is so vile that you want the reader to root for their demise. I suggest using this type of villain sparingly. For example, in Operation Peacemaker, Book 2 of the Last Chance series that will be coming out in April, the villain is a Somali pirate named Abu Waheed. As I wrote his character profile, one thing came clear. The man is vile. He’s scary. There’s may not be a shred of redeeming trait in him. Matter of fact, he scared me so much that I cut his profile short, something I’ve never done before.
One way to do this is write a character profile. Though I'll write on this in a later post, essentially, you want to write down everything you can think of related to the cahracters. This is a way to get to know your characters, and the long and the short of it is that before you even start writing your manuscript, get to know your characters. Let them speak to you in terms deeper than what they like for breakfast and what they look like. As they tell you their story in their voice, you’ll learn what made them the way they were and what traits they have, both positive and negative.
Then, out of nowhere, just like the bishop, you’ll capture your readers and hold them until the end of the novel.
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