When Good Isn’t Good and Bad Isn’t Bad
Developing Well-Rounded Story Characters
By Marcia Thornton Jones
I was bullied when I was in fifth grade. At one point, the girl who bullied held a mock trial on the playground and, acting as judge and jury, declared that no one was to be my friend. From my perspective (first person protagonist point-of-view ) the girl who bullied (antagonist) was nasty, horrible, cruel, and downright mean.
She was popular and had a close-knit group of friends. That tells me that, in order to have so many friends, she must not have been all bad; she must’ve also possessed qualities that were friend-worthy. Stepping back and viewing her from a distance (third person omniscient), I can admit that she exhibited positive character qualities, too (just not towards me). With others, she was smart, funny, confident, decisive, and a damn good leader—after all, she convinced everyone else to join in her bullying entertainment. Her strengths made her effective as a person who bullied.
But why did they pick on me? From my first person protagonist point-of-view, I was nice, honest, compassionate, and innocent.. But what happens if I practice a little detachment and look at that little-girl me with a third person omniscient viewpoint? Then those same traits can be seen as weak, ignorant, naïve, and immature. It was the same seemingly positive attributes that resulted in me being targeted as a victim.
Using that detached third person omniscient analysis, I can also see that comparing myself to the girl who bullied resulted in a handful of ‘false truths’ that began to guide my thoughts, decisions, and actions. These faulty beliefs included:
· I am not good enough
- I am not worthy of friends
- I am powerless
- I am a victim
Of course, the other girl’s successes provided her with a few ‘truths’, too. Beliefs such as:
- I am better
- I am powerful
- I am a eader
All this reminiscing makes me realize that developing story characters is helped when I consider the flip side of character attributes—and that sometimes good isn’t necessarily good and bad isn’t always bad. The following freewriting prompts came about as a result of all this ‘detached’ thinking, and I hope they will help me to develop well-rounded story characters.
- What positive protagonist qualities might the antagonist respect—and even be jealous of? Which of these positive qualities, when taken to an extreme, might be viewed as flaws? In what situations might these positive attributes become weaknesses?
- What antagonist traits might the protagonist respect—and even be jealous of? Which of these positive qualities, when taken to an extreme, might be viewed as flaws? In what situations might these positive attributes become negative attributes?
- What faulty belief systems does the protagonist accept as ‘truths’ based on comparisons with the antagonist? How do these beliefs guide the protagonist’s thoughts, decisions, and actions?
- What faulty belief systems does the antagonist accept as ‘truths’ based comparisons with the protagonist? How do these beliefs guide the antagonist’s thoughts, decisions, and actions?
To this day, I feel sorry for that little-girl me. I wish, though, that she had possessed some of the other girl’s confidence so that she could’ve stood up for herself instead of settling into the role of victim. By the way, I am eternally thankful to the one girl from the other girl’s inner circle who rebelled and crossed the line to become my friend. It took great courage for her to see what was happening, to disagree with the other girl’s actions, and to act on her own ‘truths’!
For more information about bullying and how to stop it, check out www.stopbullying.gov