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We’ve all heard that plot driven stories may be fun to write, but readers stick around for the characters. But how exactly do we squeeze all that boring character heavy stuff into our action packed storyline??

If you’re like me, character may be your weakness. You know enough, but start with plotting and the character is the after thought. Not good.

I want to improve my stories and have found a way to start with character which improves my plotting, and not distract from it. For this, I discovered a big fat list of polar opposites. Opposites attract, as we know, and starting with this point alone, has developed richer plotting from the outset.

Here’s the list of polar opposites for you. After this, I’ll show you how I’ve used them to develop a character first plot:

1. Neat vs Sloppy
2. Brave vs Cowardly
3. Masculine vs Feminine
4. Open vs Closed
5. Suspicious vs trusting
6. Optimistic vs Pessimistic
7. Planned vs spontaneous
8. Passive vs Active
9. Low-key vs dramatic
10. Taciturn vs Talkative
11. Living in the past vs forward-looking
12. Conservative vs Liberal
13. Underhanded vs principled
14. Honest vs dishonest
15. Literal vs poetic
16. Clumsy vs graceful
17. Lucky vs unlucky
18. Calculated vs intuitive
19. Introvert vs Extrovert
20. Happy vs Sad
21. Materialistic vs spiritual
22. Polite vs rude
23. Controlling vs impulse
24. Sacred vs Profane
25. Nature vs Nurture

(This list is taken directly from the pages of Christopher Voglers’, The Writer’s Journey.)

I’ve used these opposites to write how a character could move from one state to its opposite.

Don’t think of these opposites as protagonist and antagonist pitching against each other. Think of them as the same person, changing over time.

Here’s my first attempt at #1:

1. Neat vs Sloppy
A neat perfectionist learns to let go a little, let others breathe and even allow a little dirt into their lives to stay healthy.

I found that this sequence, despite how short it is, generated an image for my as yet unknown character in my as yet unknown plot. You might have a similar idea. I continued through this list, and the more I wrote the more detailed and character heavy the sequences became.

Here’s another:

2. Brave vs Cowardly
A brave soul jumps into many situations and suffers the consequences of friends getting hurt, until they realise that their confidence can put lives at risk, and worries the people who love them the most. Their fear of cowardice is misguided, and they learn that considering others first, makes them the strongest soul alive.

Note: technically, the above doesn’t transform to a state of ‘cowardice’, but you get the point.

I found that the more I wrote, and considered the Hero’s Journey along the way, the more character and story specific ideas arrived.

Here’s #13

13. Underhanded vs principled
A sly thief has had to steal everything of value. Their reform out of the toxic world is now stable and grown up. But old values still exist. Their corrupted morals mean one-upping others to get what they want feels safe. No-one has shown them how to win at life by being truthful, moralistic, and guided. Loving themselves is the secret. It is only when shown by another, that they learn this. When they learn that they have a rare gene which can save the planet, that they reassess their direction and ‘get smart’. Their recklessness could put billions in jeopardy. Being shown the results of their self control finally changes their mind for good.

The above feels like I’m writing gibberish. It’s not particularly good, or clear as an outline, by any means, however, it’s generating character first ideas. I found that writing one or two if the polar opposites out did very little, but the more I wrote (there’s 25 on the list, remember), the more I honed the idea of character.

I recommend trying this method out yourself if you’re having the issue of starting with Character first. This approach makes it clear to me how I can layer in plot points, set up the antagonist, and show what the protagonist’s personal crisis will look like.

I feel I can really hit into my plotting now with confidence.

Result!

Mark 🙂

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash