As a writer, I’m always analyzing my characters. I’m evaluating them: how they work together; are they innovative; are they nothing more than stereotypes; are they effective. So many questions, and important questions, to be asked of your characters, and important to answer. If we want to continue to grow as a literary community, and we do, then we have to do our part to contribute. What is beautiful is that we are doing that more and more. We are adding more complex female and POC characters and the world is better for it.
So when I look over my characters, I have to find my voice in them, and find my particular trend… and I can safely say that I know what I like to do. I’m a Ying-Yang writer. I like balance in my characters. If I have a wild-card, then I need to have a cool-headed character next to them. Often this manifests in a female-male pairing. No, I’m not just talking romantically (because I happen to subscribe to the fact that women and men can just be friends with nothing more attached). I like balance. I want a female character on the same ground as a male character. Maybe that comes from my own experiences with friendships. Or maybe that comes from my desire for equal friendships like that. I’m not sure. But I find myself doing it all the time.
In Turned/Red, I have Red alongside Hunt (though I throw Mal in the mix). In my current novel, (working title Ghost Crown), Katja is beside her brother Emil (I also love writing brother-sister relationships that are functional and not confrontational. Blame Joss Whedon and Firefly). I like balance. But I like to show that women and men can work alongside each other, or even in opposition to each other, and that their gender doesn’t play a part. They happen to be a woman or a man, but that doesn’t define them. So I pit them together or against each other. I make them equal and I balance out the leads.
Or make them non-binary. Spin that balanced top.
But I do it with women characters too. Red is balanced by Mal. Katja is balanced by Milanka. Even the men are balanced: Hunt by Byar and Emil by Goran. Hot/cold. Passion/Pragmatism. But then I like to take those balance points and flip them. Suddenly the passionate one is logical, and the logical one has done something spontaneous.
And then I like to tear that balance apart. It’s an emotional moment, but also a plot moment. I’m a character driven writer, so this makes sense. I need an emotional trauma to turn the tide of the story. Sometimes, that mixes into the plot based story-telling some writers favor, but it’s more about sharing the world through a character, and these moments define us as human beings, so why not a fictional character?
By now, you’re probably thinking that this traps me. I’m stuck finding the balance between my characters instead of letting them be insanely complex or difficult people. Not so. A character isn’t always the level-headed one. Sometimes they switch. That’s human nature. If you look at your own friend base, you’ll find the strange balance. For many of us, that’s a group of people. We all play a little part in balancing us out as a whole. For me, that makes a well-rounded and multi-dimensional story. Balance. It swings one way or another, but the way it swings, the direction, and how you find that balance is the fun and intensely difficult part of story telling. It’s also how to create a multi-colored world. It rounds it out, fills it up, and creates humans.
For each writer, it is different. Some will balance with physical descriptions. Some do it with emotions. Some with alignment (good vs evil). Some do all of these. They’re all good. But we have to make sure to expand upon that starting balance point, and tip it over. I think that’s why I start with my female-male duo or passion-pragmatic duo. Then I tip them over the edge and see where that takes us.
Whether you start with a duo or a trio or a group of nine beginning a journey to destroy the ring (I could write a whole post on how that group balanced each other. Just look at an elf and a dwarf), tip that balance. Spin it. Drop a rock on one side, and see how they slide and fall.