Endowing Your Characters with Traits to Solve Story Tension #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

            The characters you create need to be given certain knowledge or abilities in order to solve the story tension. Whether characters need to conquer self-fears, solve mysteries, get out of danger, or survive day-to-day traumas, writers need to choose specific qualities that would help their characters accomplish this. 

Knowledge is a big trait in many stories. In one of my short stories, my teen protagonist needs to help her younger brother who’s having an asthma attack in a cave. But as writers, we also need to explain how the protagonist obtains any knowledge. In my character’s case, she learned how to control her brother’s asthma from watching her mother do it. In another story, my young teen needed to understand how to back away from a wild animal on a mountain. Again, the knowledge was explained through story. The teen listened to park ranger talks.
Character abilities are another trait. Think of the superheroes’ abilities to fly, create fire, or shoot webs. Each of these traits helps the hero accomplish something important in the story, whether they are protecting the world, snagging the criminal, or saving their own skin. Everything that happens in a story needs to be there for a specific reason. It needs to move the story forward. Whether we endow our characters with the knowledge of the life cycle of bats in a cave or the ability to become invisible, the traits must be given to help the character solve the story tension. And they need to be specific.
Character traits must also solve the tension in memoir. In memoir, many times the protagonist is finding a way to cope in a particular situation. In my memoir about attending college as a mother of five, Victoria is finding ways to accomplish the foreign language requirement at the Ivy League level. In the pages just submitted to my editor, I’m up to 140 pages now; Victoria takes a twenty-page French placement exam. Believe it or not, she places into French 120 [French II].
In three semesters of French at Penn, two three-hour classes per week, Victoria deals with discussing racism and genocide, social and psychological issues and politics in class, writing weekly essays in French, creating blog posts and oral and video presentations, writing research papers, attempting listening and speaking tests in French. She is grossly out of her comfort zone and desperately searches for ways to cope in French class because she needs at least a B average to keep her scholarship.
To accomplish this she studies French vocabulary constantly, obtains a tutor through the university, seeks the prof before class to be able to explain in English her difficulties with learning the language, [you were not permitted to use English in the classroom]. And when all else failed, Victoria asks the younger students in class what the professor is talking about—when the prof is not looking of course. Tears of frustration are shed. Then Victoria learns about being able to take the language requirement as pass/fail, but she still needs to turn in and pass all the work required. Many times, her husband finds her asleep at her computer five minutes before the midnight deadline to post the work.
So what are Victoria’s traits at this time in the memoir? Perseverance. And when the last professor tells Victoria she does not pass the language requirement because she is not fluent in French, Victoria finds the courage to stand up for herself and speak with the Dean of Romance Languages. In doing so, she passes the language requirement at Penn.   
Our characters are unique. They require specific traits in order to solve the story tension. And as writers, we need to remember to explain how the character came to acquire that knowledge or ability, no matter what genre we are writing in.
So what character traits or abilities do you give your protagonists to be able to solve the tension in the story you are telling?
Please feel free to offer any insight regarding Victoria’s struggles learning French at the Ivy League level. It would be truly appreciated.  

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20 thoughts on “Endowing Your Characters with Traits to Solve Story Tension #AuthorToolboxBlogHop”

  1. Hi Victoria – gosh that's some learning … I don't think I could discuss those subjects in English, let alone French. Yes – there are ways of explaining things and ways over the years we've learnt … we should be prepared to learn from others. Well done – character traits need to have a degree of authenticity … cheers Hilary

  2. Great post Victoria. We do need to give our characters the means to seek resolution relevant to the theme. Our characters should feel real and that's a normal human trait 🙂 Happy Hop Day 🙂

  3. I write creative nonfiction, and I enjoyed your discussion about character traits in CNF–how they can be analyzed and used for effect when writing memoir. Thanks for the tips!

  4. Great post and it definitely makes sense. While I can't think of specifics right now, I know I've been annoyed by protagonists knowing the crucial piece of information to resolve a situation while having no reason behind why they know it. Thanks again.

  5. Good for you, Dawn! Since I went to a pass/fail grade, I don't know what letter grade I would have gotten. I do believe that a good teacher needs to be tough and hold her ground, but they need to understand the students as well. I love the idea of speaking/learning a second language, but being able to do so is a real challenge for me. Sadly, I also forget much that I learned in French.

    It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks for sharing your insight. Enjoy your week!

  6. Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing! Thanks so much for stopping by. Yes, all protagonists need to know things to resolve the story tension, but the writer must tell the reader how or why they know that information.

    Thank you for your kind words! All best to you.

  7. Thank you so much for your kind words, Erika. They are truly appreciated. And you are so right. Our characters need to feel real both to us and our readers.

    It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks for sharing your insight. Enjoy your week!

  8. Those topics were very difficult to talk about–especially in French, Hilary. I believe we learn from each other every day. And this is a good thing.

    Thanks for your kind words, Hilary. It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks for sharing your insight. Enjoy your week!

  9. Oui! I understood everything except for mieux and le mien. I don't want to cheat and look it up. Does mieux mean age or old or something? Does le mien mean the self? I don't think it's the mind, right?

    It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Raimey. I appreciate your kind words. As always, thanks for sharing your insight. Enjoy your week!


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