Last time, we talked about how to deepen characters and how EVERYBODY LIES (thank you Dr. House). Lies are critical for great fiction. To become excellent writers, we need to become great secret-keepers. Denial is more than a river in Africa 😉 .
I’d started a series on this a few months ago and Shingles got in the way of the next posts I had planned. But, the first of the intended series was about THE WOUND. Check it out if you have a bit of time.
Most of us don’t go around lying because we are pathological liars. We lie because of our wounds. And, if you read the post, wounds don’t have to be big to be BIG.
Newer writers sometimes think we have to have a rape or death for it to be “enough” but never underestimate “smaller” wounds. They are far more common, very damaging, and readers have a lot likelier time empathizing and thus connecting.
Though I had my fair share of big wounds in life, strangely enough, the small ones did just as much damage and maybe even more. It was the jokes about me being ugly or fat from family members or schoolmates. It was being teased that my clothes were from Kmart (had a single mom).
It was playing sports, competing in martial arts, or being first chair in clarinet and playing a key solo…yet every kid had a parent/family member in the audience but me.
These wounds drove me to being more of a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, and insecure about my body and looks. One can only be called “Thunder Thighs” so many times. To this day, I refuse to wear shorts even though, when people made these comments, I was 11% body fat. I just happen to be built for strength and “willowy” is an adjective that will never describe me.
Yet, though the wounds did their fair share of damage, they also created a person who learned to be self-sufficient VERY early….which is a mixed bag. Also, I learned to ignore other people’s opinions. This helped A LOT when I was blogging about how social media would change the world and had others calling me a lunatic.
But, I can also say there are times I maybe should have been better at listening to counsel and opinions. Learning to discern when to listen and when to ignore is still a struggle for me…because of the WOUNDS.
Beyond “The Wound”
Today, we’re going to explore an extension of the WOUND. The BLIND SPOT. There are no perfect personalities. All great character traits possess a blind spot. The loyal person is a wonderful friend, but can be naive and taken advantage of.
The take-charge Alpha leader can make a team successful, but also inadvertently tromp over feelings or even fail to realize that others have great ideas, too. Maybe even BETTER ideas.
Often the antagonist (Big Boss Troublemaker) is a mirror of the protagonist, especially in the beginning of the story. In the first book of the series I am currently writing, Romi (my protagonist) is LOYAL. She believes everyone has some good and the world will reward you if you simply are good and work hard.
How she ends up in trouble and the number one suspect in an Enron-like scam is that she trusted the wrong people and they let her take the fall for the scheme.
To arc and be able to beat the antagonist and solve the core story problem—Find money and clear her name—she’s going to have to grow up. Her bright-eyed naiveté is an asset. Others (ALLIES) gravitate to her because she is such a Pollyanna. They are there to buttress her weaknesses and even mentor her growth.
Yet, by story’s end, she cannot be the same. She’s going to have to be more realistic and see truth about people in order to come out alive.
Conversely, the antagonist is betting that the original blind spot used to make Romi the sucker will remain. The antagonist is banking that she will refuse the call and thus not grow. The antagonist’s blind spot is pride and opportunism. Being able to manipulate.
Yet as Romi grows, she learns to see who people truly ARE, not what she simply wants to see and that is a large reason the antagonist fails.
To use an example from a movie we have likely all seen. In Top Gun, what makes Maverick the best pilot is his complete lack of fear. He has the cajones to do what other pilots wouldn’t ever consider.
He’s driven by his wound, the lie about his father. This has made him one of the best pilots (trying to overcome his tainted history and impress a ghost) but he’s missed the lesson on how to be part of a team.
Yes, maybe breaking all the rules makes you “the best”, but it can get others killed. It isn’t all about HIM.
This is why when I refer to “the antagonist” I prefer my made-up term Big Boss Troublemaker. The antagonist isn’t always “bad.” The antagonist is simply the person responsible for creating the core story problem.
Iceman isn’t a bad guy. He isn’t evil with a plan to take over the world or infiltrate the Top Gun school as a sleeper terrorist.
He’s simply a by-the-book fighter pilot who believes Maverick shouldn’t be there. He loathes Maverick because he thinks he’s a danger to himself and others (and, frankly, he has a very valid point).
The plot provides the crucible. Maverick butts heads with Iceman over and over in a um, man-part-measuring contest. But what happens when Maverick loses Goose? Crisis.
A hard event (PLOT) has now forced Maverick to face the truth about himself. For the first time, he SEES the blind spot Iceman and others have been pointing out (which has been the core source of conflict). This loss forces him to go searching for answers deeper than buzzing the tower.
He finally recognizes others might actually have a point.
The beauty of this movie and why it’s remained so timeless (aside from hot guys in Navy dress) is it’s a movie exploring people. Real, broken, hurting people blind to who they really are. By story’s end? Everybody arcs.
Maverick learns there are other people in the sky besides HIM and that he is part of a TEAM. Iceman lightens up and recognizes that Maverick, too, has a point. Sometimes one just has to toss out the rulebook.
Thus, when creating characters in any story, to deepen them, we need to KNOW them. What DRIVES THEM? How would they react according to their past, their wounds and their blind spot?
As a writing exercise, take a scenario. Maybe an attempted mugging. How would different characters react?
For instance, when I was in college, I taught Jui-Jitsu during the day and sold papers in the evening. One dark winter night a drunk tried to mug me in a dark apartment complex and take my hard case briefcase.
Because of MY background, growing up powerless and determined to be in CONTROL, I’d taken years of martial arts. Also, when I was eight, I witnessed my 6’8″ male family member raise his hand to hit my mom while she was cooking….and she beat his ass out the front door wielding a mad hot cast iron skillet.
This left a mark (though likely more on said family member).
Thus, 12 years later when a MUCH larger drunk came up behind and tried to mug ME, he got beaten heartily with a briefcase and then chased until I lost him.
But why did I fight, not just hand over the briefcase?
I’d always been POOR. I was very poor in college and had worked long hours to buy a really nice briefcase in hopes of landing a better job than selling and delivering papers. There was no money in the case. I could have handed it over but because of MY wounds, the briefcase was more than a briefcase.
Clearly my BLIND SPOT is I have an alligator mouth and a pekinese @$$. I could have lost and ended up hurt or dead.
But what about a person with a different background? A different wound? A different blind spot?
What if the person mugged was a trust fund baby who could easily buy another briefcase? Or a person who’d been beaten badly in formative years and would do anything to avoid experiencing that pain? What if the person was elderly? There are a lot of variables that make a VERY rich palette to create characters with LIFE.
Think of your own life and personality? What is your greatest strength? How does it create your greatest weakness? What is YOUR blind spot. Play a little armchair psychiatrist and what you find might be really interesting 😉 . Feel free to share about you or even your favorite characters you’ve read or even written.
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What people say about you says more about them than you. I told myself that many times when young and in school. Like you, I found words hurled in malice leave festering wounds. A very wise post. 🙂
Still hurt. Still refuse to wear shorts, LOL.
Great essay. Helpful in seeing how we can use our wounds and gifts to help guide, focus, and find the motivation of our own character. For those of us who write more non-fiction, it also helps us understand better our own motivation for selecting the topics and taking the stands we take. Thanks Kristen.
Yes, thanks Kristen! I always feel your posts touch on so much MORE than just writing, and relate to the real person behind the words, too. I, too, refuse to wear shorts, and for a similar reason. Here in Texas you totally get why this is such a huge issue lol. Thanks for being an inspiration!
Great post as ever, Kristen, and I feel it’s helped me get some more focus on my characters.
My main character is a thirteen year old who’s run away from every home they’ve put him in. He tells himself he’s given up, but when his best friend wants to run away from her parents, he decides he’ll come along for one last ride to show her the futility of trying to escape your problems.
This time, things go RIGHT–they’ve gotten away clean, someplace impossibly far from home–but while his friend has realized her mistake and wants to go home again, the main character feels he’s finally got his wish for freedom and he’s not going to give it up easily. Live Free or Go Home–they’ll have to work together.
Just wanted to share.
So much AWESOME info and applicable examples! Thanks for this, and I’ll definitely keep in in mind when creating characters for my next novel. This gives me so much to think about. One thing I have to remember as a writers is that we are manipulators…we’re responsible for manipulating our characters, the plot line and our readers. It’s a lot to consider, but worth it in the end.
What makes Kristen Lambs blogs read so, well, so un-blog like? It’s her ‘gift’ for weaving personal life experiences with quick witted humor, with the teachable moment that doesn’t make you feel like a lesson is being taught, but some how by blog’s end you’ve learned something. I think with some authors, the plight of writing a multidimensional character can be a daunting task and being honest it’s easier to play it safe with easily defined roles. But if you want character depth, blur the roles, add some substance to your characters, and don’t forget that we all are vulnerable to something. The more human your characters come across, the more believable they become. And once that is established, you better your chances for your character connecting to your readers on many levels. Thanks once again Kristen for sharing your valuable insight; speaking for WANA’s all over the world, WE APPPRECIATE YOU.
((HUGS)) THANK YOU for making my year ((HUGS))
Awesome blog, Kristen! This post is right on time with where I am in rewriting my novel. You gave me clear insight into bringing more depth to my protagonist and other characters. Always grateful for your help, thanks a million.
I love the idea of trying out various scenarios on characters, i.e. scenarios that aren’t in your book, like the mugging incident. You’re absolutely right. My current MC is a conflict-avoider who freezes up in a crisis. She would just freeze and the mugger would grab the briefcase out of her trembling hand. She’s going into a situation that makes her into a victim and the only way she’s going to get her life back is to find a way to fight back against those who are much bigger and more powerful than she is.
There are other scenarios that can provide insight into other parts of a character. How does a character react to a break-up with a long-term romatic partner? How does a character react to winning or losing a game? How does a character deal with their car breaking down on alone on a mountain pass at night in a blizzard? I’m sure a similar game could be played with blind spots.
One interesting thing for finding blind spots is to study what is called “temperament” in psychology. Temperament doesn’t just mean “personality” as the lay person might think. There are actually about ten characteristics that psychologists believe remain constant from toddlerhood through adulthood in every individual (barrintg some huge traumatic event that forces a significant change). Each characteristic has two ends of the spectrum. So one characteristic is activity level. Some people are lethargic by temperament. Others are active by temperament. A person with an active temperament born into an hunter-gatherer society where a lot of physical labor is required would do well. A lethargic person would still have to do close to the same amount of work but wouldn’t enjoy it. But if those two people were forced to sit through 12 years of formal education… The active one would do less well. So, you can see how this lends its self to finding natural blind spots, weaknesses and strengths. The other temperament characteristics are things like general mood (positive or negative tending), adaptability, sensory sensitivity and persistence level. Neither side of these spectrums is necessarily bad or good. Even though persistence, for instance, is a useful trait in a lot of situations, persistent people can also be bull-headed, make for terrible toddlers who get spanked a lot and ovent fail to see when they are persisting in a poor choice.
I say “Persistence can look a lot like stupid.” And you get the point. There are ALL kinds of scenarios and every person would react according to wounds and blindspots.
This was superb on so many levels, but then that’s the point. 🙂
Thank you, Kristen. Creating characters with blind spots surely makes for an entertaining story. I like the protagonist-antagonist relationship you demonstrate. I think even if the antagonist was the villain, they can reveal blind spots. I think about The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” He knows Batman won’t kill him because it would go against everything he stands for. There are plenty of these relationships in the comic world. And I think that is what makes or breaks it.
I’m a survivor and an independent one through and through simply because I have no choice. Growing up I don’t even question the whys and hows I just deal with whatever life decided to throw at me and move on. Only lately that I am beginning to question everything, past and present but that’s beside the point. I have this quote on the sidebar of my blog. I forget from who it is.
“I believe that introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. no matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward.”
I don’t usually leave gushing comments because there are usually so many but this series comes at the perfect time for me. I’m working on a story that has me writing obsessively. Because of your post on lies – I was able to tighten her story by withholding. Instead of her sharing her terrible school experience as a child, I let her conceal it. And, of course, my ability to write anything but that story is lacking because this comment is harder than I expected. Today’s post helped me realize exactly what her end goal is. I knew how the story would end but I didn’t consider her emotional arc. Now I realize how her childhood wound has done more damage than I had even thought about. I think it makes her a much more interesting character. She’s weird and funky and I love her so much.
Great writing exercise . . . how different characters would act in a certain scenario depending upon their wounds and blind spots. It demands introspection.
I was mugged once, too. I had my kids with me — a six-month old in my arms and a three-year-old by the hand. The guy tried to take my purse. Did I let him? No, I fought back. Never dropping the baby. Then I remembered to scream and neighbors came our of their houses. My purse strap broke and the bad guy got away (until he was caught later that night trying to cash my check at the grocery store).
I’ve never tried to figure out why I fought back. I just did. And it probably wasn’t the smartest thing in the world with my kids there. But what are my wounds and blind spots that made me react that way? Why didn’t I just let my purse go? Because it was filled with Chuckee Cheese tickets? I don’t think so.
In my Vampire Syndrome Saga, vampirism is transmitted by sexual intercourse. Two of my major characters slept with vampires who didn’t bother to tell them what they would become afterward. This leaves lingering psychological effects upon their consciences, even a century or two later. This may be why Damien and Lilith’s 253-year marriage is so rocky. Damien has never quite forgiven Lilith for not telling him he would become a vampire, simply by consumating their attraction. 😈
My mother is a musical prodigy and had expected her children to inherit her natural talent. None of us did. Growing up as a talentless daughter of a prodigy was difficult, as would be expected, but what’s not expected and more difficult was that she didn’t foster the gifts I was born with. This mother-daughter tension is explored in all my books, at least so far. As to any blind spots it may have created, I encouraged my daughter’s gift for art to the point she has no desire to draw anymore, which has left me completely perplexed. “I’m encouraging you, dammit! Pick up that expensive art pencil I bought for you and draw on the expensive art paper and create something magical because I know you’re a brilliant artist.”
And Kristen, you’re a total hottie.
It goes with being Kristen or Kristin 😉 . I know the feeling. Grandfather was a business GENIUS. Thought the ONLY degree worthwhile was business. Then I majored in Political Economy and he was mad as a hornet and I told hime, “Fine, pay for my college and I will major in whatever you want.” 😛
Wonderful post. Makes me want to see Top Gun again. My greatest strength is seeing the good in people. This backfires though, because sometimes I’m blind to a lot of negatives parts to a person because I’m seeing one tiny sparkle of goodness. It can take me a long time to finally wake up and smelled the spoiled coffee.
Awesome post! It’s amazing how many ‘aha’moments I get when I read your posts, Kristen. Thanks so much.
We can’t be our wounds. But that struggle in itself is my life’s work in writing 🙂
Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.
I am on the umpteenth re-write of my novel and I have been working on keeping my characters real. I guess my blind spot in writing was not seeing that they need a blind spot. Thank you Kristen! I love reading your posts. They always seem to be spot on advice that I need at just the right moment in time.
I am aware of the “All Protagonists Must Have Flaws rule” in fiction, and I have a question.
The story is an action, adventure, sci-fi romance. It requires realistic time travel that starts in 2050 and ends in 2553. That might be possible using time dilation, which is proven every second of every day by each one of the functioning global positioning satellites in space, and nuclear fusion. It, too, has been proven, and millions are being spent now to develop it as usable power source.
Assume you are part of the NASA team charged with selecting the first two astronauts to travel through 500 light years of interstellar space as the crew of the first starship. The ship and launch will cost about 35 billion dollars. Would you look for pilots who have unblemished records as graduates of military service academies with their stringent honor codes, who have demonstrated intelligence and courage, and who make the highest scores in training and tests, including psychological fitness tests? Or would you look for people with flaws?
The protagonists must demonstrate many different kinds of courage against many, sometimes extreme, threats.
Now you change hats. Instead of working for NASA, you are an author. What what kind of flaws could you give the two people who have been chosen to fly the starship?
Usually people in those roles are Alpha over achievers. Why?
Because being an over achievers spend too much time away from their family and because they tend to be control freaks. Are there other dimensions?
You might find my article about self-reliance at richardperth.com interesting.
They are also REALLY hard on themselves and far more sensitive to”failure.” They (as you said) also often end up alone because they’re often unbalanced and lack friends or a significant other. Thus, darkest moments are really dark because they suffer alone. Additionally, since others believe they are so strong, they don’t reach out and Type As too proud to ask for help. I could go on a WHILE having been there and gotten the t-shirt….
You’ve proven to me that photos don’t tell as much as I thought they did. I would have guessed you to be willowy with long slender legs. (I have large legs too despite my narrow shoulders.) One of the stories I’m working on doesn’t really have an antagonist. She’s just someone who thinks the protagonist shouldn’t be there. She’s a person who doesn’t like change.
Hi Kristen. Once again you write blog’s that are very intuitive, and make me think about my characters and the kind of wounds they have. As I review my last three books I see they all have wounds, and they have blind spots. Thanks for putting this into perspective.
Reblogged this on .
Loving this! You are always so insightful.
I’ve been working on an ensemble cast of characters who are all flawed in some way, some more than others. I’ve noticed a rash of popular books (e.g., Gone Girl, Girl on the Train) with unreliable narrators, and it seems that this is a trend. I think it can be overdone, though, so that the reader doesn’t believe in the authenticity of the storyteller. Do you agree?
My main MC has a definite blind spot. She’s easily angered and doesn’t always realize it when her enemies are trying to get a rise out of her to trip her up. It isn’t until a great tragedy strikes due to her lack of control and rash decisions that she realizes that she needs to cool it and find inner peace. Great article, Kristen!
What an amazing post and story! I envy your openness to talk about your life. How inspiring.
I always hate it when I wait to read your posts and it happens to be one I identify with in some way and want to comment on (happens a lot with your blog posts). I have a master’s degree in mental health counseling and it has helped me immensely as a writer. I better understand the depth people refuse to let others see and I have translated it to blog posts and other writing frequently. So, I am starting a website and I have already written several blog posts on this very topic.
I like the way you choose words. Wounds is very apropos and characters wouldn’t be lifelike is they didn’t have blind spots. We all have a perspective that in many ways diverges from reality. Mental illness provides a look at true breaks from reality, but we all have them.
Excellent article. Thank you.
Awww, thank you ((HUGS)).
Reblogged this on Dog's Breakfast and commented:
And here’s the crux of the matter – story arc relates to character arc relates to character flaw (blind spot) and virtue and it’s what the story is really about.