We all understand the importance of contrast in our lives. You can’t know happiness without sadness. You can’t fully appreciate what you have unless you’ve had less. But writers often don’t consider how contrast is important to a successful novel.
Not only does contrast help us to put things into perspective, it’s also more entertaining.
There are lots of ways contrast can enhance a novel. Let’s take a look at a few.
It’s not uncommon for aspiring writers to write stories in which all the good characters agree with each other and all the bad characters agree with each other. We know in our own lives that this isn’t a realistic scenario. Opinions differ widely even among similarly minded folks.
In novels, it’s easy to create very homogenous groups of people where everyone has very similar opinions, and this can get very boring very quickly. Here are the most common (unrealistic) scenarios:
Everybody Hates the Antagonist
Whether the antagonist is an evil king or queen, a murderer, a kidnapper, or just someone who doesn’t want our protagonist to succeed, it’s easy to write someone who everyone hates. But would everyone really hate the antagonist? After all, even murderers gain followers (albeit unstable ones) and certainly people agreed with Hitler.
Everybody Loves the Protagonist
There’s nothing I hate more than a universally loved protagonist. The idea that someone could exist who is so nice and so pretty and so fun that everyone loves them is preposterous. Even the best person in the world has haters, even if they hate the person for their own reasons (like jealousy).
Everyone Has the Same Religious and/or Political Affiliation
This is common among fantasy and science fiction novels (whole civilizations will often be written as if everyone agrees on all matters of religion and politics) but it can happen to any novel. We know in real life that everybody has their own opinion, even within the same religious or political group.
Good Events & Bad Events
Many writers think of novels as a long series of bad events. The problem with this is that if only bad things happen to your character, you deprive the reader of the satisfying roller coaster ride of emotion. If the reader doesn’t experience your character’s triumphs, their failures will begin to feel stale and boring.
A long series of bad events can also be a drain on the reader. It’s good to have moments of levity, moments when the reader can smile, and not just moments when the reader feels sorry for the character.
The Protagonist at the Beginning vs. The End
Perhaps one of the most interesting contrasting elements of the novel comes from the protagonist. After all, a novel is really about the character’s journey and how it alters them for better or worse.
One of the most interesting ways to create contrast in a novel is to think about taking two snapshots of your character – one at the beginning of the novel and one at the end. Now these snapshots are more than just visual, they also capture the essence of the character’s personality.
At the beginning of the novel the character might be angry, vengeful, and petty, but by the end of the novel the character is accepting, forgiving, and less judgmental of others.
By creating contrasting versions of the same character, you ensure that an interesting and exciting journey takes place, one that has deep effects and implications.
Consider contrast in your own novel.
- Do you have any characters, families, or groups who seem to agree on almost everything?
- Is your novel a long series of negative events without any accomplishments or successes?
- Do you have a strong contrast between your protagonist at the beginning and at the end?
If you want to have some fun today (and I’m sure you do because it’s Friday!) try searching for two pictures to represent your character – one to represent who they are at the beginning and one to represent who they are at the end. Focusing on these two pictures can help remind you to develop that contrast!
Please do not forget to submit to Workshop 3 by 8am EST Monday!
Do you find it hard to create contrast in your novel? If so, which of the three areas of contrast discussed above are the hardest to master?