In her book The Fantasy Fiction Formula, Chester suggests giving your protagonist five good qualities and two bad ones, and the opposite for the antagonist, so five bad qualities and two good ones. As an exercise, I thought I'd try to dissect a few of my favourite heroes using Chester's technique, just to see what makes them tick.
Let's start with Jim Butcher's wisecracking wizard slash detective Harry Dresden:
- can lose control when angry
I could go on, but let's stick with the seven qualities for now. This character's really well built. If you've read the books, you know that most of Dresden's good qualities become liabilities at one point or another. That's a nice trick; I think I'll try it at some point.
Next up: Sapkowski's witcher, Geralt of Rivia.
+ skilled at combat (he's a witcher, duh!)
+ follows his code (principled again)
+ keeps his head in a crisis
- lone wolf
Okay, I have two action-hero types here. What about a different sort of hero? Or maybe I should stick with the term "protagonist"?
Killashandra Ree, the failed music student who won't settle for second place, ever, from Anne McCaffrey's Crystal Singer books is a different type of character, but just as compelling as the two mentioned above.
And now, here's one from the classics: Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre:
This one's not from literature, but I love this character. Lorelei Gilmore from The Gilmore Girls:
+ good friend (loyal)
- fears commitment
Hmm. A lot of the same qualities seem to be popping up. So a main character should have some principles and stick to them, should be competent in some way, and be determined. We can't have the character just give up after the first setback; that would make a fairly boring story. I guess that leaves two qualities for shaping the character, like being funny or smart etc. For the negatives, pride appears to be a popular flaw.
I think this is a helpful tool. Would it become too complicated if we assumed the main character to be principled, competent, and determined (motivated), and came up with five good qualities on top of those? I don't know.
I also didn't have an anti-hero type here. Maybe that would look different? Should he or she have four good qualities and three bad ones to even the score? Let's try Deadpool, because I just saw the movie (which was awesome, by the way. Go see it, if you don't mind some profanity and low-brow humour; he isn't called "The Merc With the Mouth" for nothing):
+ follows his own moral code
+ a survivor
- loose cannon
What do you think? Does that work?
An interesting exercise, anyway.
But what about the antagonists? Come back next Monday and see.