Ok, in my last post, I promised the next one would deal with a character you want to add in for your protagonist. There are actually TWO that I’ll talk about. Think positives and negatives. For a muscle to get stronger, it has to push against something, a heavy weight. This weight is the “guardian of the portal,” according to Joseph Conrad (and as mentioned in Linda Lappin’s article, “Your Journey to Hell and Back”).
This must be a formidable foe…with a weakness. There must be, of course, some way to get past this person or item that’s preventing your hero from reaching his or her quest. Don’t make it too easy, and by all means, don’t let your hero be successful on the very first attempt. Repeated defeat means that your character will have to get smarter, and this is where the next character comes in–
The helper or guide.
The biggest mistake writers make is thinking that this helper or guide is just out there, waiting to help, looking for an opportunity to make someone’s life better. They are completely altruistic, totally good, and only looking out for others.
What if the person your protagonist needs help for is actually an enemy? What if they both need to defeat the guardian because they want the same thing? Maybe they grudgingly agree to work together, but once they get past the guardian, they’re in conflict with each other over the final prize. More conflict, more tension, and messier (a good mess), because now, these are people who would have worked together and HELPED each other.
Create an obstacle or villain that BOTH your protagonist and his or her enemy need to get past. Descrbe it in detail and make it fearsome, troublesome, a real thorn in the side. Think of a weakness that may not be automatically obvious, something TWO characters could never do alone. (Side note: I recently did this with a children’s chapter book I’m writing: Galaxy Girls: Fire and Water Do Mix! The two young female superheroes, Pyra and Hydra, alone can’t defeat their dreaded enemy, the Buzzinator. But together, they use their powers to produce super-hot steam, which is the key to reaching and defeating this pest. This is just to show that the technique can work for everything from children’s chapter books to high fantasy novels, and everything in between!)