Evi’s tips on writing characters who complement each other

Hiyo, everyone! Today I have a writing-related topic to discuss, though it’s broad enough to cover not just written media, but also the scripts for movies, shows, and all sorts of other things. I’m going to talk about how I make my cast of characters complement each other!

I’ll start with some brief clarification. I don’t intend on discussing how to make characters compliment each other, i.e. say nice things to each other. That’s a totally different topic! When you Google the word complement, used as a verb, the definition you get is “add to (something) in a way that enhances or improves it; make perfect.” That’s what I plan to delve into. How to make each of your key characters improve each other.

The above definition begs a question: “What exactly does it mean for a character to be ‘perfect’ (or ‘complete’) within the context of the story?” The answer certainly isn’t to make them without character flaws. In fact, doing that makes them less compelling as characters because flawless people aren’t relatable. In my eyes, the key is in what drives all stories forward: Conflict.

Any compelling story should have themes, or questions it provokes in the reader/viewer/player. Characters complement each other well when you’re able to compare and contrast them with regards to theme. To use the Harry Potter series as an example, Harry and Voldemort complement each other because they have opposite views on the series’ central theme of death; Harry risks his life for others time and again, whereas Voldemort goes to great lengths in his quest for immortality. Their underlying philosophies thematically clash with each other even as the characters fight each other magically, adding another dimension to their struggle.

I find the best antagonists challenge the protagonist of the story in every way, especially thematically. But enemies aren’t the only ones who should have a thematically inspired relationship. Ideally, all major characters should have their own thoughts regarding central themes. Often, the protagonist’s allies in large part agree with them , but interactions between them are more interesting if they at least disagree regarding something related to the themes. Two perfectly harmonic viewpoints won’t come into opposition with each other, and conflict is everything.

Goals are another key factor to keep in mind. What are each of your characters trying to achieve? If your ‘good guys’ are teaming up, it’s quite possible that they have very similar goals, but, still, it’s important to make it clear why they have those goals. Two people can arrive at the same conclusion for very different reasons, and by delving into those, the reader/viewer/player gains a better understanding of not only the characters, but the theme itself.

As I mentioned above, your characters should have flaws. One way to make them work well together is by having them challenge each other’s weaknesses. By forcing them to acknowledge their own shortcomings, you create an inner struggle in each character that naturally leads to character development. To use a vaguer example, you may have one character be too merciful towards defeated foes and another be completely merciless. By making them butt heads over that difference, you can move both characters’ story arcs forward.

Of course, it’s important to write a cast of characters that is diverse in all sorts of ways, including personality traits. While all the main characters should have thoughts regarding the central themes, there should be more to them than just that. Be careful not to focus so much on character synergy that you forget to make each character a thoroughly fleshed out individual! If two different characters look at the same painting (just a silly example), they will probably have non-identical thoughts surrounding it. As with goals, clashing viewpoints can be used to paint a larger picture of the themes at hand and, in doing so, really help tie the novel together.

What do you guys think? Do you disagree with me, or think I missed any important points? What sort of themes do you find most compelling? I bet, if you analyze your favorite works, you’ll find a lot of examples of synergy throughout. Please let me know if you notice anything! Until next time, enjoy, and have a wonderful week!

 

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