| |

Use Character Depth to Build Reversals


When Friends Become Enemies and Enemies Become Friends

Challenging your protagonist with obstacles adds intrigue and engagement for readers. Reversals, where what appears to be one thing turns into something else are great obstacles to throw at your protagonist. Just when the reader thinks they know, a reversal pivots the story. The protagonist experiences an unexpected challenge.

Character Reversals

Action stories often have physical reversals such as a helicopter crash just as the hero is off to catch the bad guy. Character reversals imbue an emotional punch to any story genre.

Setting up character reversals takes a deep knowledge of your characters. You need a deep understanding of weaknesses and masks. For example,

  • a woman is in control in male-female relationships and then falls in love. The relationship works for a while but he leaves. She becomes devastated and despite her seeming control is unable to function well in the real world living under the shadow of abandonment.
  • A low-level cheerful employee who always seems to be there when something crucial happens and then disappears uses his innate cunning and outer cheerful demeanor to climb the ladder. He ends up at the top by manipulating everyone on his way up.

Now think how your story would expand if both supporting characters were in your story. Will your protagonist see the manipulation of the employee? Will she triumph over the devastated woman by winning the man of her dreams?

Character Understructure

Creating character reversal requires a deep understanding of your character. You’ll go far beyond physical description and dig into their inner makeup. Reveal the patterns, foibles, weaknesses, and strengths that belong to your character over time. You want to go from how they first appear in body language and speech to the change that emerges to challenge your protagonist.

To know about your character, dig into the under layers and past experiences.

  • A foible that reveals a deep flaw
  • A traumatizing childhood experience that lies behind motivation
  • A stated motivation in conflict with deep-seated internal goals

The more you add to your character’s list of inner turbulence, the more tools you have to reveal the reversal. In your story you will start with the appearance and gradually reveal the nature that changes the character’s action.

The Pivot

At some point in your story, an action or piece of dialogue will trigger revealing the character’s underpinnings, change their action, and cause your protagonist to rethink their next action.

Once you have given the reader a solid idea of your character, you can hint at the change to come. To make the reversal integral to the story, drop small hints early in Act 2. Use small clues that the reader and your protagonist may overlook—a gesture, a glance, a comment that doesn’t quite fit.

Build on the character’s underlying change so that by the time you are past the midpoint, their base character creates an obstacle for your protagonist.

Take Your Reader on the Ride

As you complicate the characters around the protagonist, you create problems. Obstacles are the meat of challenging your protagonist. Using character reversals challenges your hero to strive for the goal. A novel-length story provides ample space for you to challenge your protagonist with several character reversals.

Give your hero a bumpy ride. Your readers will love the ride.

​Zara Altair 
Zara combines mystery with a bit of adventure in the Argolicus Mysteries in southern Italy at the time of Ostrogoth rule.
Photo by Ariana Prestes on Unsplash

Similar Posts