A Pirate's Resources

Character Contradictions

Exercise 16 :: Character Contradictions :: I want it! No I don't!

My daughter has a friend in her class who LOVES basketball. He watches it on TV, plays pick up games with his dad and brothers at the local park, and plays for the local rec league. This friend is also the shortest person in her class by a good half foot. He isn’t likely to ever play basketball on a high school team, much less professionally. But he loves basketball. THIS, parents, is a character contradiction. Many of us have things about us that suggest one thing, but we feel another. We may write pages and pages of stories, but never show them to anyone. Or love ice cream but be allergic to dairy. Or be a strong teenage boy who cries at kleenex commercials. Or your super sweet art teacher who likes to drive race cars on the weekend.

Contradictions are part of what make characters interesting. You’ll note that this comes right after the story element of
mystery, and that’s no surprise. It’s a little mysterious to think about how certain character contradictions can exist, or where they came from. We might need to learn more about a character’s backstory to understand how certain contradictions came to be. Contradictions may come about because we value two different things at the same time. Which side of me comes out will depend on what I want most at any given time, and this is true of my characters in a story, too. So this element of character contradictions will lead right into character desires (what do we want?), which in turn leads into the story engine as you will quickly see.

In Real Life :: To make this section come alive, have your student not only go through the previous chapters of the story and search for areas where a single character displays contradictions (in behavior, in desires, in actions - you can check out the “Finding it in the Story” section for more details). But even better is to spend a day or two looking for this reality in ourselves and the people around us, or the stories around us. Take your favorite movie, and look for these character contradictions (think of Bilbo Baggins - he was a ground dwelling hobbit who also wanted to go on an adventure - which desire won out?). It’s a marvelous thing - much of what is “taught” in a creative subject is just growing our awareness muscles, and then putting what we see to use. Knowing these contradictions exist can help each of us, but especially middle schoolers become aware and understand the internal conflicts they feel and wrestle with. This, in turn, can help them make decisions about how to respond to those feelings and wrestlings, which is a very good thing.

Finding it in the Story :: pg 178 :: the biggest contradiction in this section is the naughty monkeys’ desire for the jelly bean versus their desire to be on LeFossa’s crew. They also desire to sleep in the room, but do not want to risk First Mate’s (or Yogger’s) punishment. Earlier in the book we witnessed Monkey Maya who feared Scurvy Spat but desired the food (pg 86-7).