I’m working on a new novel involving a dual personality, so I’m doing a lot of research into mirrors, perception and point of view, but it has taught me something interesting about writing in general. If you’ve truly mined every possible form of conflict that your characters go through during the course of their emotional journey you’re likely to touch on their unique internal conflict at some point because it’s at the very heart of the human condition.
An easy way to explore this concept is to ask how characters view themselves. In every case it’s going to be a different truth than the one others see, but here’s the interesting part—their perception will affect how they behave in every scene, and every possible situation. In getting to know your character, this disconnect between the way they perceive themselves and the way others perceive them is what matters most.
How does the young Neville Longbottom see himself in the first Harry Potter book, for instance? And how does that change as the series progresses?
There are some things that remain constant in each case—core skills or challenges—but so much of the rest is down to how they themselves and how others perceive them. And changing the way they view themselves, or taking them out of a world where others have labelled them, can lead them to behave differently, perhaps even allowing them to become the person they want to be, rather than the person they believed themselves to be. Or revealing a darker side they’d kept well hidden, even from themselves.
How do your characters deceive themselves? How do they rationalize their view, convincing themselves that they’re right? How do they live with themselves after acting on a morally questionable decision?
Fresh perspective is only gained when some one or some event reveals a glimpse of who we could be, whether good or bad, affecting our choices thereafter. In tragedies, this moment of fresh perspective never occurs.
So who, or what, affects the way your characters view themselves?
Consider every character in your book, not just the hero. How does each one’s view differ from the way others think of them? If you’re struggling with the middle of your story, considering which events could bring a moment of self-realization and change to your character may give your sagging middle the scaffolding it needs to carry the story to a triumphant or tragic end. Either way, there needs to be a moment where they either accept or deny a view other than their own.