by John Ostrander
None of us are the same person all the time. We change according to the people we are around; they draw different aspects of us out of ourselves. A sibling may draw us into the role of younger or older sibling automatically. A guy talking with other guys may talk and act one way and, on seeing a pretty girl, turn around and talk and act completely differently. Have you ever said or felt that a certain person brings out the best or worst in you? It’s probably true. You do it to others as well.
What’s true in life should be true in our writing. One of the major purposes of supporting characters, major or minor, good or bad, is to draw out aspects of the protagonist. There are differences between who we think we are and who we actually are and it’s other people and/or difficult situations that draw these out and reveal them to ourselves or to the readers of our stories.
Nothing reveals a character more than contradictions. The deeper the character, the more profound the contradictions. Let’s do an exercise. Take a sheet of paper and on one side in a vertical column write attributes or virtues that a character may have. For example, our character Jimmy Bill Bob is friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. That’s right – a real Boy Scout. Now, draw a line down the center of the page and in a column opposite the first attributes, write their opposite. Be creative. You can’t use un – as in unkind or ir- as in irreverent. Find words that you feel mean the opposite of the word on the left hand side of the line. I’ll wait.