Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Power of Opposites in Our Story

y4My son is in marching band, so I found myself at the homecoming game last week as snack mom. :) What’s more, since I was snack mom and had to stay for the whole football game, I told his friends’ moms that I would drive their children home.

This means that I was at a high school football game with no friends to talk to. It was chilly, I hadn’t dressed appropriately, I was by myself, and I don’t watch football. And, every time I turned to watch my son instead of the game, (flirting in the stands with several different girls, it appeared), he frowned at me.

So I took my notebook out. Yes, I was the only person at the football game doing work, but luckily I’m able to block out announcers’ voices, cheering/booing crowds, cheerleaders’ chants, and curious looks. And who cared if I were embarrassing my son, since I was already embarrassing him by just being there? I made some progress on the new book.

But then—I found there was one force of nature I couldn’t block out—the avid football fans seated directly behind me. And this, apparently, was the biggest game of the season that I had innocently wandered into.

The problem with the bellowing of these fans (“Where’s the flag, ref?! “GET HIM!! GET HIMMMMM!!!” “GO! GO! GO!”) is that I had absolutely no idea when they were going to start yelling, since I wasn’t watching the game. So as soon as I got really embedded in my story, they started screaming behind me and I’d jump about two feet off the bleacher.

In fact, I ended up watching the game, which became a very close one (which meant the Avid Football Fans got louder and louder.) And I became aware that of all the people to be near each other, we had to be the most radically different: the nerdy woman trying to beat a deadline by writing a murder mystery at a football game, and the sports fan who has been closely following games since before I was born.

It occurred to me once again that playing with opposites is incredibly useful for a writer:

It can help provide a comic foil. I’m sure I looked funny juxtaposed miserably with the Avid Football Fans. And vice versa.

Opposites create conflict and tension in scenes. I know how I felt when I was around the Avid Football Fans…I wasn’t exactly relaxed. We can also use opposites to provide internal conflict for our characters (what do they want most? What’s the direct opposite of that? Can they want the opposite thing, also?)

Playing with opposites can be helpful in creating a character arc for a story. There can be two people—romantic interests, rivals, enemies—who hate each other at first, then grow to like or love each other.

It supplies contrast to show more information about our protagonist.

Do you enjoy using opposites in your stories?