Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Reflection Characters in the Transformational Arc

It's been an interesting week. Not half as stressful as I'd expected. A good thing perhaps, letting me catch a breather before I do that deconstruction of Dance with the Devil. I love Zarek and want to do him justice. Good stuff, and very much on the same level as the early JR Ward books. It kind of reminds me of Lover Awakened, maybe it's the similar world-building? I dunno. Got to think about it.

Knock on wood, it hasn't showed yet. Every time I read the news, they say, "Brace yourself. It's going to be a bad winter." But so far it's rained, and today was a glorious 65 degrees with clear skies. The last time it snowed, it started in late November and kept on going, hard and heavy right through January. I know it's early November, but you'd think it'd show signs of being bad if this was supposedly the worst winter since forever.

I love my new job...to an extent. It's a great job. Decent money, fairly close. In some ways, the accident was a good thing. I'd never have gotten out of my rut if I hadn't totaled my car, and I'd still be stuck in car payments.

I've been doing some work on the transformational arc, and after a rocky start--my kid is sick and I guess that's a different kind of stress, one I can't think through--I got it in gear.

Jodi's thoughts on reflection characters--or why is it that I can't spell to save my life?

Hague says a reflection character is someone that “reflects” something about the protagonist and supports them in their quest. In a lot of ways I think that’s true, although Hague uses the word “support” in a very literal sense, and I think the usage is broader. A better way to say it would be to say the reflection character does what he or she needs to do to get the protagonist moving through his arc in the right direction. Even if the reflection isn’t doing a whole lot themselves.

In Casablanca, Lazslo is Rick’s reflection. The guy Rick would have been if everything had worked out in his life.

Lazslo doesn’t do much. He shows up, has a past and a potentially noble future—he encourages people to stand up for what they believe in, and sings the French National anthem. He also shows Rick two things Rick needs to know. He loves Ilsa and values her safety more than his continuing fight against the Nazis.

In other words, Lazslo is very much a hero in the old-school, Dudley Do-Right sense. Good, kind, honorable, self-sacrificing, and the leader the resistance so desperately needs. To make him even better, he has a beautiful wife, who when push came to shove left Rick once she discovered Lazslo was still alive.

Lazslo “reflects” all the good qualities dormant in Rick. A really strong transformational arc can be even stronger with a good reflection character to show your reader the potential in your hero.

Reflection characters can also be used to reflect qualities and life situations or fears, and a good example of that would be a fear reflection.

What is your character afraid of?

Maybe your character comes from a background of domestic abuse, and has “fixer” tendencies. She wants to fix things and make them better, or protect others in her care. Maybe—because of her own abuse, or factors outside her control—she’s afraid of not being there, or being unable to help someone when they desperately need her.
Maybe she has a mother or sisters, or a little brother who is being abused and puts herself in harm’s way and takes the abuse on herself—but what if one day she isn’t there?

What if one day she’s working and her little brother is killed? But her mother and little sisters are still in the same situation?

A fear reflection would “embody” everything your heroine is afraid of. All the guilt that she couldn’t be there, the fear she can’t protect the others, and maybe—a very deep, very subconscious fear that she comes from the same genetic stock and might have abusive tendencies of her own. Therapy is a fairly recent thing, and even today people don’t always have access.

Maybe she leaves to escape the abuse, but takes the sister she can’t leave behind.
That makes her sister the fear reflection. The one person who makes the heroine’s fear real.

Fear for her sister, love for her sister—terror if anything looks like it might hurt her, and a desperate need to make sure her sister survives and lives happily ever after.

There are so many emotions and situations tied up in our feelings, and in a character-driven story sometimes you don’t want to spend a lot of time digging into internals. Using someone as a fear (or any kind of) reflection would help to show change, progress, and the struggles your character is going through.

To have your character sitting, thinking about how she’s been having these “feelings” of wanting to hurt someone when she’s angry might not work, depending on what your story is about, “but” showing your character sitting around a campfire, rubbing her cold hands, staring at her sister—hating her, wanting to hurt her for one bright red moment, brings it all home in a way that connects on a visceral level.

Maybe the reflection gets sick, or hurt—and your heroine couldn’t prevent it. Love, pain, and the fear she’s going to lose another person she loves is all there in the way her hands shake making the thin watery soup that’s all they can afford. Subtext yes--but also a great way to show your character's arc.

2 comments:

Hailey Edwards said...

Maybe the reflection gets sick, or hurt—and your heroine couldn’t prevent it. Love, pain, and the fear she’s going to lose another person she loves is all there in the way her hands shake making the thin watery soup that’s all they can afford. Subtext yes--but also a great way to show your character's arc.


This is good stuff. My current heroine is a good example of this type of reflection. It's nice to know I'm on the right track. ;)

jodi said...

Never forget to trust yourself.

...and thank you. I like it. In some ways I think being trapped up against the wall with content deadlines is pulling articles right out of me. It's a good thing. :)