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How does your protagonist’s world view drive your story?

Everyone, whether they’re conscious of it or not, has a way of looking at the world that informs who they are and how they deal with life.

As you create fully developed characters, figuring out how they view the world will add depth to your story and even influence your characters’ actions. You can also use this knowledge about your characters to show how they evolve.

In What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman, 9-year-old Jamie witnesses domestic violence and hides out with his mom. When a teacher visits him and his mom, and Jamie is told he must go back to school, this is how he reacts:

“How he hated her then. Why would his mother send him away from the trailer, back to the exploded, contaminated world? Why couldn’t they just stay together the way they had been and Earl could bring them food sometimes?”

As the story concludes, Jamie has grown stronger and his mother reassures him that he and his sister Nin are going to be okay. “It didn’t take long to quiet her, and when she had, Patty caught Jamie’s eye and they both laughed again, the way people do who have been through something together.”

In the end, it feels as if Jamie has become more resilient and hopeful and will change his view of the world.

Sometimes a character’s view of the world can also be a theme or premise of a story. In “The Night in Question,” a short story by Tobias Wolff, Frances looks after her brother Frank, who is often the victim of their father’s wrath. Even as adults, she rescues him from trouble to the detriment of her marriage. Wolff writes:

“To this day, her husband had not forgiven Frances for what he called her complicity in that nightmare. But her husband had never been thrown across a room, or kicked, or slammed headfirst into a door. No one had ever spoken to him as her father had spoken to Frank. He did not understand what it was to be helpless and alone. No one should be alone in this world. Everyone should have someone who kept faith, no matter what, all the way.” In the end, Frances still is there for her brother.

In Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, Child develops Reacher’s character over time using many small details that reveal his philosophy about life. Here’s one example from “Die Trying.”

“Reacher stirred. He didn’t really want to move. He wasn’t comfortable, but he guessed he was happy enough where he was. In particular, he was happy with the feel of Holly’s hair against his shoulder. His life was like that. Whatever happened, there were always some little compensations available.”

How do your characters look at life? Consider how you can use this character development element to show who your characters are and drive the arc of your story.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. My characters tend to reflect my own outlook on life at the time. Which is to be expected I guess.

    It is still something that I actively try not to do though, (especially with my minor characters, as I prefer that their personalities contrast that of my main protagonists)…

    March 28, 2014

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