Walking Contradictions: Show us what you’ve got!

Walking contradictions are characters who have some kind of irreconcilable conflict, either internal or external or a combination thereof.  Let’s see if we can develop some irreconcilable conflict for the main characters of the one-liners we’ve got going:

1. Our human-rights-attorney story:  When the money runs out before the case against his transgendered partner is over, a human rights lawyer joins a prestigious and wealthy law firm not knowing that the managing partner is the devil behind the lawsuit.  Our thematic premise is:

Standing up to those in power leads to self empowerment;
cowering to those in power leads to disempowerment.

The Thematic Irreconcilable Self
A couple weeks ago we decided that, when the story starts, our main character needs to be someone who cowers.  The opposite of cowardice is courage, which is a positive…. but it could also be aggression, which has negative connotations and therefore, I think, gives the irreconcilable self even more conflict… so we’ll go with that.

But if we go this route, then I think our thematic premise could use a little refinement:  Standing up to those in power is courage, but how can we distinguish aggressive courage from a more positive form of courage?  Gandhi comes to mind, with his words of “ahimsa,” a type of nonviolence, and “satyagraha,” meaning “truth force”… and Gandhi was a lawyer … who essentially “fought” for human rights.  Hmmm…

Anyway, our new premise could become:

Courage leads to self empowerment;
cowardice leads to disempowerment.

So then, for the thematic irreconcilable conflict, what about:

When the story starts, Character embodies cowardice (through passiveness) and courage (through aggression).
At the end of the story, Character embodies courage (through truth force).

The Irreconcilable Story Goal
What the character wants most is to win the case for his partner and his career.  The opposite of that is to lose the case.  How might the character want that result too?  Maybe he longs for a quiet life, and he expects that if they win, he and his partner will become the poster children of a movement, launching them into the spotlight…  So much for his quiet life.

The Physical, Ironic, or Comic Juxtaposition
Our main character is a lawyer.  Lawyers typically wear suits.  The opposite of suits might be sweats. Maybe, in his off hours, our lawyer works out.  But instead of running on the treadmill, he works out with boxers or cage fighters (showing his aggression) in his sweats.  Maybe he often gets called to deal with legal emergencies while working out, and he goes to deal with those legal issues in his sweats, because appearances, though important to the legal profession in general, aren’t that important to him.  So maybe early on in the story, opening scene maybe, he gets called into court at the last minute and arrives in his sweats.

Contradictions Based on Our Need to Serve Multiple Social Roles.
So, our main character is a lawyer and a boxer or boxing coach.  As a lawyer, he’s very formal and gives a lot of deference (passive cowardice) to judges and other lawyers.  As a boxer, maybe he’s crass and aggressive.  In other situations, who knows which version of him will come out.

Contradictions Based on Competing Morals or Goals.
As we said above, our lawyer has reasons to want the case to succeed and to want the case to fail.  Perhaps when it looks like they’re going to win, and the consequences of winning also start to show themselves, say, he gets national media attention or congratulated or harassed by strangers on the street, he starts to self-sabotage and therefore comes across as incompetent.  This self-sabotage, in turn, makes it look like the case will fail, and so he starts feeling stressed and feeling pressured by his client-partner, and so he then becomes super competent, because he feels the need to get the case back on track.

Contradictions That Result from a Secret or Deceit.
Our lawyer’s secret could be that his client is also his lover–we, as the writer, know that, but perhaps our readers and the other story characters don’t know that fact.  And so, to keep the secret, our lawyer acts differently in conducting this particular legal case than he would in any other case, perhaps by being overly flippant when the stakes are low, because he doesn’t want to let on that this case matters more than others, but, when the stakes are high, he noticeably takes any setbacks (and wins, because part of him doesn’t really want to win) more personally, because they are more personal.

Contradictions Based on Conscious Versus Unconscious Traits.  
Again, wanting to win is a conscious trait.  Wanting the quiet life may or may not also be conscious.  But wanting to lose is probably an unconscious trait.

Dispositional Contradictions.
Again, the character is quick to show cowardice, especially in legal situations, but also quick to show aggression, especially around his boxing buddies.  But in all other situations, either cowardice or aggression could decide how he acts depending on the circumstances and his current mental state.

2. Our diamond bullets story:  When his brother’s gang develops a diamond bullet that can penetrate bulletproof vests, a scholarship student must decide whether to help his brother avenge the death of their gang-leader father or protect the father of his girlfriend, the Police Commissioner of New York City. Our thematic premise is:

Acceptance leads to family;
Revenge leads to loss of family.

The Thematic Irreconcilable Self
A couple weeks ago we decided that our main character grew up in a tough environment, with a dad and older brother both heavily involved in gangs and violence.  He is also going to a prestigious school by means of an academic scholarship.  So:

When the story starts, Character is the embodiment of both dehumanization and compassion.
When the story ends, Character is the embodiment of forgiveness.

Contradictions Based on Physical, Ironic, or Comic Juxtaposition.
Our main character lives in a gang community, where people wear “typical gang clothes” (whatever that is) and live in dilapidated buildings, but our character wears his prep school uniform, which he irons, and makes sure that his shirt is tucked in even as he drops his breakfast wrapper on the sidewalk as he walks to the subway.

Contradictions Based on Our Need to Serve Multiple Social Roles.
Our character is both a poor, scholarship student among wealthier students, and the second son of a slain and once influential gang leader.  While at school, he may try to act like he belongs, bragging about status symbols he doesn’t have (or maybe stole), tidying up the facts about his dad and brother when around the richest of the kids, being gentlemanly around the girl he likes, raising his hand in class to impress his teachers.  When he’s at home, he makes fun of the rich kids, talks down about his school, studies in secret and hides his school books when he gets caught with them, putting them aside entirely when gang or family duty calls.

Contradictions Based on Competing Morals or Goals.
Our character doesn’t want to cause anyone’s death.  But he also doesn’t want to disappoint his brother or the memory of his dad.  When he’s around his brother, he goes along with any plotting to kill the commissioner (at least until it’s “time”).  And maybe he undermines the plan whenever possible, say, by hinting of the plans to his girlfriend in hopes that she’ll relay the info to her dad.

Contradictions That Result from a Secret or Deceit.
Our hero could have two secrets.  One secret could be that the police commissioner and his daughter, our hero’s girlfriend, know who the gang leader is, and are still talking about him and the gang, especially the eldest son, and maybe they’re even aware of a second son… but they don’t know that our hero is the second son.  And so, when they bring up the gang, our hero has to act like he’s appalled and surprised by the gang’s activities so as not to let on that he’s a part of it.

The second secret is a flip of this.  The gang and the brother know the commissioner has a daughter who goes to our hero’s school, but they don’t know the daughter and our hero are dating.  Maybe the gang says smutty things about the daughter, and our hero has to not let on that he finds this totally offensive.  And maybe the gang assigns our hero to spy on her, or kidnap her or something, to get at her dad, and… he does.

Contradictions Based on Conscious Versus Unconscious Traits.  
Consciously, our hero wants to please people.  Unconsciously, he wants to make his own decisions without anyone’s influence.

Dispositional Contradictions.
Our hero is quick to dehumanize anything or anyone that threatens him or his way of life in any way.  But he also shows great compassion to “innocents” and maybe animals.

Well, that’s it for me.  What about you?  What sort of irreconcilable conflict do you see for our one-liners?  And what sort of irreconcilable conflict have you come up with for your characters?  Tell us in the comments!

UP NEXT, ON MONDAY

We’ll look at how to ground our irreconcilable conflict in the character’s backstory.  See you then.

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