And conversely, what’s he doing with her, what’s he doing with him, what’s she doing with her, what are they doing with them? It’s a pronoun orgy!
One of the most persistent favorites in storytelling is the notion that opposites attract. Mismatched couples provide gripping conflict from their very natures. Odd couples ask the question, “How do people overcome their differences?” Star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet introduce romantic love and passion as both a means of overcoming differences, and exacerbating them.
Every storyteller enthralls his or her audience with conflict. Conflict engenders change, and when the conflict centers around an interpersonal relationship, it necessarily engenders a character change. At the beginning of a story, there are two very different characters in an adversarial relationship. At the end of the story, their relationship will change because one or both of the characters will change, by the very nature of being exposed to the other, different character.
Scientific experiments are performed on a test group and a control group. The control group is the group of subjects whose status remains the same throughout the experiment, in order to provide a “status quo” measurement of whatever changes are experienced by the test group. The test group is the group that has changes introduced to it. Researchers know the very introduction of change itself has an effect on a test group, so they randomize not only the individuals in each group, but also what those individuals are told about their group. And many times, the researchers themselves are given randomized information about their own place in the process.
In a character arc, the mere exposure to a character with different ideology–no matter how passionately or mildly held–is an incubator for change. And that is something that we instinctively relate to. Examine your own life–how often do you shun people whose ideals and beliefs are so very contrary to yours? How often do you embrace them? And how comfortable do you feel doing so?
Do you avoid people who are radically different–and why? If you’re stuck in an uncomfortable position at a party or social event, when faced with someone who challenges your worldview, instead of extricating yourself right away, take a few moments to catalog and live in that uncomfortable moment. Savor it, and save it, and really think about it. Think about what it’s doing to you…and then imagine what it will do to a character of yours. (This is not to say that you should stay in a dangerous situation–if someone is radically different from you because they are holding a gun and you’re not, then by all means, savor the experience while you’re running far away).
When you’ve survived the experience, ask yourself how you’ve changed. What has interacting with that “opposite” person done to your own worldview and beliefs? Did you find yourself questioning some of them? Did it feel weird? Or did you find yourself more sure than ever that you are on the right track? Or did you fall somewhere in the middle, with a greater understanding of “I could never do that, but I guess I could see how someone else might do it.”
Oftentimes, it’s your characters that go from “No way, Jose” to “I guess I could see someone else doing that” to “Maybe I was wrong” (for their character flaw) or “at least now I understand why I wouldn’t ever do that” (for their line-in-the-sand moment). And if you really want to take it to another level, if you are firmly in the camp of “this other person is the anti-me,” challenge yourself to find something that you have in common with that person. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be. Good writing, and the truths behind it (especially those truths that say “we might have our differences, but we also have our similarities, too–deal with that“) always is.