Adding Contrast to Your Writing: Character

Photo credit: sally_monster on Flickr
It’s often said that some of the best movies out there are so-called “emotional roller coasters.” We praise books with ups and downs; books that make us laugh and cry.

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?


Margaret Alexander said...

That's one epic most there, Ava. You've made excellent points. We need to deliver contrast in any way we can. And characters are really the best way to do it. That's why I love putting completely opposite characters in similar situations and seeing how different (or similar) the outcomes could be.

Ava Jae said...

I love the Artemis Fowl series! I'm reading The Last Guardian right now and enjoying it quite a bit. :)

Also, I was totally thinking of The Fault in Our Stars when I wrote that bit about laughing and crying in the same book.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Margaret! I agree that characters are a great way to introduce contrast to our stories. The potential for doing so is huge and it can create some really interesting moments in your WIP.

Robin Red said...

Making magic again, Ms. Jae :) I was just working on my character contrasts.

Ava Jae said...

How perfect! Love it when that happens. :)

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