A thing I like to do—but often don’t realize I’ve done until later drafts—is mirroring characters.
Mirrors, foils, twisted distortions, however you want to refer to the end product. I like putting different characters in similar situations or giving them similar characteristics and seeing the different ways things pan out. I like reflecting themes across from the heroes to villains and everyone in between.
I’m noticing this tendency in my current WIP especially—a book that’s been around since 2009, when I was fifteen. This is my fourth time trying to rewrite it, and I think I’ve made more progress than in past drafts, but more than anything I’ve been noticing the connections between characters. Perhaps in part because I’ve cut at least four characters this time around, so there’s no longer so many to work with.
These examples might be kind of vague, so bear with me and I’ll try to keep them coherent.
- One character serves as a kind of path-not-taken, someone very similar to my MC in childhood. Had MC not undergone a certain inciting incident, he would have turned into someone very like this other character. The fact that they were friends as kids also opens up the potential for this character to question how MC is viewing things, and remind him of how he has changed.
- There’s also a former friend who’s turned into an enemy, and a former enemy who’s turned into an ally. Both have served as the sword arm of awful kings. Both are asking for MC’s trust. Each cannot stand the other, in part because everyone compares the two and they remind each other so much of themselves.
- One character is compared to another through the whole book, then turns out to be more like someone very different.
- Another wants the same things MC wants, but has already followed that path to its conclusion and sat down at the end of it unfulfilled.
- A number of characters have the same hurts in their past, but they’ve handled them different ways. They’ve held different grudges, or let each slight go completely.
- Some characters are willing to do whatever it takes to reach the goal they all share. Others have had enough and are ready to slip back into the margins.
Because of their different personalities, pasts, abilities, interests, and willingness to take risks, I find it really interesting to play off the similarities and bounce around differences until I find something cool to work with.
Sometimes the MC makes these connections, sometimes he doesn’t.
Sometimes they help me tie together a perfect character motivation or internal epiphany, sometimes they don’t.
Either way, I have fun.