I’m continuing the series on building believable characters, using Jeff Gerke’s book Plot vs. Character. Today I’ll finish the topic of The Knot, or What’s Wrong With the Protagonist.
You’ve established your protagonist’s inner flaw. You’ve discovered how it developed. You’ve made it deep enough and large enough to sustain an entire novel. Now what? Jeff says it’s time to find the opposite of the knot, so you’ll be ready for the Moment of Truth at the end of the book.
I’ll use an example from the last post. Alexandra Rover is the protagonist in Wendy Orr’s novel, Nim’s Island. Alex’s knot is her agoraphobia. She’s afraid to leave her apartment. She’s afraid to try new things. She’s afraid of germs. What’s the opposite of all these fears? Indiana Jones. Yep. Alex writes Indiana Jones-style adventure books from the comfort of her own home. These two opposites collide when Alex has to leave her house and travel to an island in the South Pacific to help a young girl in trouble. The story just wouldn’t have been as moving if Alex had to conquer her fear of strangers by simply stepping out the door of her home. She had to be shoved out by something far greater than herself or her fears: a young life in jeopardy.
Getting to the happy ending shouldn’t be easy. Walking away from additions and negative strongholds and bone-deep fears isn’t a walk in the park. Your protagonist is comfortable in her dysfunctional world, so you’ve got to come up with something to shove her out. Find a great knot for your protagonist, then find an equally powerful destination to offer in exchange. The bulk of your novel then showcases this battle between the two options, all leading up to that moment when she decides if she’s going to give up her flaw and go for the prize, or remain in her familiar discomfort.
In my next post, I’ll talk about the Moment of Truth. For those of you paying attention, that’s phase number 4. I realize that I’ve skipped phases 2 and 3 – Jeff does it that way in his book, so I’ll do it that way, too.