I’ve been struggling with a Good Guy. He’s a character who I see as inherently good, but where’s the drama and conflict in that? Hence, this post: how do you make a good character come alive for the reader: rout for him, care for him, fear for him?
The character in question is the father of my protagonist. The protagonist has been raised fairly spoiled as part of the ruling class. Her father, part of the ruling council only wants what is best for her, and loves her only second to his wife. He would never do anything intentionally to harm his daughter or wife because of his deep love for both. So where does this leave him as a character? Boring. Yet he needs to be a pivotal character because there is nothing stronger for conflict than a parent at odds with their child. But is there a way, other than playing the tough-love card to make him engage in conflict with his daughter?
I’m not sure yet, but the inkling of an idea for conflict may lie in his love for both wife and daughter, and in his desire to do what’s best for her. Perhaps he doesn’t see his choices which put him into conflict with his daughter as being unloving. Perhaps his hand is forced by some external threat to him, his family (one or both wife and daughter), or his internal ideology. For example, perhaps a threat to his nice compartmentalized view of life drives him to send his daughter out of harms way (which she of course views differently). The challenge is avoiding the tough-love card which I tend to feel gets overplayed in many stories. How many characters are motivated by anonimosity toward their parents and a perceived raw deal from their parents or parents? Too many. I don’t want my protagonist driven by such angst toward her parents (or father). There can be confusion and uncertainty certainly, but outright angst and poison in their relationship, no. Perhaps the protagonist is informed (to a degree) of the reasons for her father’s actions. The actions still sucks and the consequences are dire, but some part of her recognizes them as necessary. Yes, now we’re on to something.
While I’m on the subject, I will note that as writers we’re often faced with such difficult quandaries. Great writing is that which explores these nuances for conflict without ever opting for the easy road: the bad baddie is one very common mistake in all fiction and fantasy… Characters who aren’t driven in genuine ways, but instead by the authors perception of what is evil and bad. Similarly, good characters are often played heavy handedly with the typical 2D constructs of morality imposed upon them, rather than springing organically from within in the face of adversity.
More on this topic in future posts.