I’ve been struggling with a character in my current WIP because he is just too damn admiring of the main protagonist. Oh, I intend a romantic element between them in the story, but not at the start. But, so far, no matter how I try, this character generates very little story heat, no conflict to create tension.
I’ve been inching my way to ways to change him/his motivations to increase that conflict and tension, but was having trouble in picturing it, in making it make sense to my sense of the story.
And then I came across a post at Writer Unboxed that has broken the shackles that were binding my imagination. Its title: “The Importance of the Adversarial Ally.”
I’d never even thought of an “adversarial ally,” but, especially after reading about the examples in Jeanne Cavelos’s post, it makes perfect sense to me. After reading the article, an example popped into my mind that helps me with the concept: Jiminy Cricket in the Disney Pinocchio story. He’s clearly on Pinocchio’s side, but there’s plenty of conflict when Jiminy opposes what Pinocchio wants to do, and for good reason. Here are some of Jeanne’s thoughts:
Writers provide characters who will help and support their protagonist. The loyal friend who will stand up when the hero needs an ally. The love interest who will bandage the protagonist’s wounds. The mentor who will provide important information.
That was where I was with my ally character. But then there’s this . . .
But if this ally is only helping, you are missing a great opportunity to introduce conflict and emotion into your story.
“Only helping.” Exactly. Only helping. Only loving. Only adoring. A bit one-sided, isn’t it? She defines an adversarial ally this way:
An adversarial ally is a character who, underneath it all, is an ally to your protagonist. The “adversarial” part comes in because this character won’t just agree with everything the protagonist says and does. He won’t automatically help the protagonist with anything the protagonist wants to do. He wants what is best for the protagonist, but has his own strong options about what that is and thinks he knows better than the protagonist. He sees the protagonist as flawed or failing in some way and calls her on it. He’s not going to let the protagonist make mistakes or indulge her weaknesses.
The examples she gives include Dr. McCoy from Star Trek, Mickey the trainer in the Rocky films, and Alfred in the Batman Dark Knight series.
I urge you to visit the post. It sure helped me.
For what it’s worth.
© 2017 Ray Rhamey
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