Fleshing Out Characters: Duality

TAO - Yin and Yang opposite and complementaryImage via Wikipedia
Writers have many different ways to flesh out characters. Some pretend to interview characters about things they like and dislike. Others give their characters birth dates and look up Zodiac signs and common characteristics related to those signs.

I personally like to look at the duality of a person. This occurs when a person has a core principal but engages in an action that contradicts the core principal. It works a little like Yin and Yang. Duality in and of itself isn't a negative thing, but it can often lead to hypocrisy. Let's face it; most people have hypocritical moments every now and then — some of us more than others.  

Here are a few examples of duality:
  • The vegetarian who has leather seats in the car or a leather couch.
  • The lung doctor who smokes a pack a day.
  • The elementary school teacher who hates kids.
  •  The dietitian who has a fridge full of Coke.
As a writer, you can create any type of duality you want. You can pull from real life or look at a principal your character has and consider the ways that he or she might break the principal without realizing it.

You can add duality in just five steps:
  1. Pick a quality. Let's use brave.
  2. Convert that quality into a principal. In our example, the brave character will protect any person he sees being attacked.
  3. Think of the opposite quality. We'll use fear.
  4. Turn the opposite quality into an action. Our brave character is afraid of snakes.
  5. Use it in your story. You could toss this character into a situation where he sees a little girl fall into a snake pit. How will your character reconcile his principal with his duality?  
By adding duality to your character, you can create instant conflict. How does a person normally act when someone spots a hypocritical issue? Defensive? Angry? With humor? The way a person handles duality can actually say much about a character. Some will feel guilty over the duality and strive to remove one side of the coin, so to speak. Others will accept their flawed nature.

What methods do you use to flesh out characters? Have you tried adding duality? What do you think about it?

Related articles
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Ooh! This is a great idea for deepening a character! Thanks, Tara!

  2. What a great lesson on duality. Thanks. :)

  3. What a great idea. I'm going to have to try that!

  4. Love your examples of characters with duality. Contradictions can help create and intensify conflict.
    In one of my WIPs I have drug dealers who begin studying the Bible and getting deep into theology as they continue a life of crime. It's the crux of my story and its outcome.

    The Roswell Story continues on Wrote By Rote on Saturday 11/19/11

  5. I'm glad you gave such great examples, because I didn't get it at first. But after reading your explanation, immediately several real life examples sprang to mind. (I'm pretty sure I had the elementary school teacher who hated kids! ;o)

    I love the idea of duality and how it can create instant conflict. I'm already thinking of some ways to add this in to my current WIP. Thanks for the great tip!


I love hearing other people's perspectives, so feel free to leave me a comment.


Related Posts with Thumbnails
© Tara McClendon