Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Juxtapose

When we juxtapose items, we place them close together for purposes of comparing or contrasting. One of the ways in which writers show their characters to best effect is through a supporting cast of characters. Similarities and differences will be obvious as our stories unfold. I juxtapose characters for the following reasons:

To emphasise themes.  If I’m trying to show how someone adapts to responsibility, then I’ll also have a grossly irresponsible individual in their life. Someone they have to look out for and keep in line. Through their interaction and the problems they need to solve, my responsible character will shine.

To show different approaches to problem solving.
You and I may have the same challenges, however, I’ll probably deal with my situation differently than you do yours. In this way, personality differences are highlighted. One character may look at problem solving as an opportunity to use their initiative. Another may quail at the problem facing them. See how the diversity will come out?

To define each character’s role.
Different people fill various needs in our lives. I wrote two sisters in the novel Hardware. During a rough time, one sibling stuck close to her mother and took care of her needs. The other played the role of problem solver and tackled demands made by a blackmailer, which included financial transactions. And of course, the antagonist created all the problems.
To suit the storyline. The main characters in the novel I mentioned seem to be polar opposites. The woman is conservative, self-contained and first comes across as snooty. She sees the guy as a playboy and doesn’t know what to do with the attraction between them.  The guy likes her, but hates her superior attitude and though he decides at first not to chase her, he can’t deny what he feels. This is a classic case of opposites attracting and is a good recipe for romance.

Can you think of any other reason/s you’d want to juxtapose characters for your storyline?


Cathrina Constantine said...

Good Word for J. And at this time in the morning, I can't think....

Unknown said...

It has been my experience as a reader that, unless the books are part of a series, juxtaposition is used early in the book to achieve the opposites attract scenario but then, after the romance blooms, the juxtaposition is lost as the characters seem to become more like minded, if not entirely interchangeable through the magic of sex.

Is it possible to have characters come together without losing what made them annoying to one another in the first place and still be accepted by audiences?

J.L. Campbell said...

Thanks for dropping in, Catherine. It gets better as the day goes on.

It is, Frank. In my story, the male/female lead continued to do things their way, which was a source of friction between the two. After accepting that 'it is what it is', they were still able to play their roles, knowing the other person wasn't going to be perfect. Thanks for weighing in.

LittleCely said...

This is a good topic! Juxtaposition for emphasising themes is a great point. And you can't really get to know characters if there isn't a point of comparison.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Different people do fill different needs, as one person cannot be all things to someone.
It can prod characters into growth as well.

Christine Rains said...

Juxtaposition is important in stories. You don't want your characters all being the same. That's boring! You want the conflict, and as Alex mentioned, it helps them to grow.

Robin said...

Good stuff, J.L. I will take a closer look at my characters to find differences that I can highlight for the purpose of my theme. Thanks!!!

Chrys Fey said...

A cast of characters with a vast array of personalities is what makes a story fun. The reason why we have other characters is because they bring something new to the story, so having characters that are similar is pointless.

Great post!

cleemckenzie said...

Juxtaposition is a great tension builder and offers so many chances to develop character without intruding as an author.

Really loved this post.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I was actually worried for a moment because my lead protagonist isn't the force the other male character is. He's simply a husband seeking revenge for the death of his wife. However, upon further analysis, I realize that his wife and his wife's sister are polar opposites, and I've been striving to show that without totally realizing. Awesome post, Joy. You got me ole brain thinking.

Birgit said...

One character can even see something from several different ways so makes me think...that's hard to do:)

Pat Hatt said...

It can be fun to explore opposite sides

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Crap, I didn't study ... I don't have any more ideas on juxtaposition ... lemme get more coffee and I'll get back to ya.

klahanie said...

Hey Joylene,

I keep forgetting you are over here instead of over there. I just subscribed Follow by Email so I, or Penny, wont forget. Yay n'stuff, eh.

I often put my characters side by side. Sometimes, Penny puts me, her fictional human, in an awkward situation with a character that's named Ann Tagonist.

Have a good Sunday, eh. Evidently the A to Z team allows you Sunday off for good behaviour. Sheesh....


Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I think the classic idea of opposites attracting at the start of the story often morphs into them finding they have more in common than they first thought. So juxtapose is great at the start.

Unknown said...

Fantastic post. I've only ever handled juxtaposition (one of my fave. words!) in art school, but I rarely think of it as far as literature. Now I will. I realized in my current WIP, I have loads of characters who balance each other out and create awesome tension. :)

J.L. Campbell said...

LittleCely, the best books come with a variety of characters.

Alex, so true.

Christine, conflict is definitely a biggie/mut have for good stories.

Robin, hope that works wonders. You've given me some wonderful ideas since the A-Z so I owe you.

Chrys, I agree with you there. Various characters do bring different thing to the story.

Lee, good observation.

Joylene, I'm happy this made you think and helped to reveal something new in your story.

Birgit, A thinking character is one that can engage readers - as long they're also taking action.

Pat, true that.

Cathy, you always make me smile.

Gary, thanks for weighing in, even though you hate blogfests. :)

Susan, I think we writers eventually learn a lot more about what make people tick than we realize.

Raquel, that's cool. For me, it's usually the men and women in my fiction that bring to craziness and/or sanity to each others lives.

Michelle Wallace said...

Great post Joy!
J is for my jelly-brain... it refuses to function at the moment.

Bevimus said...

Having two opposite characters near each other tends to produce a heck of a lot of conflict thereby creating the story!