Writing Tip: Kill your Sycophants

Photo by Viki Burton – CC BY-SA 2.0 with some significant cropping by me.

You read that right. I am advocating the murder of those you love. Well… not real people. Beloved characters.

As a writer (and often as a reader) I find that stories fall into a bit of a feedback loop. Say your character, Thangar the Warrior, meets up with Agethos the Uncouth. Initially, he’s struck by Agethos’s disagreeable scent, but eventually, they realize that they share a common purpose: to end the tyrannical rule of Edgar the Hopelessly Lame. Great. We’ve had some conflict, a bit of resolution and now a new goal for our united heroes to tackle. The story is humming along.

Here’s the danger. Now that Agethos is working with your hero, he’s never going to disagree, right? Because your hero is super awesome and everyone that truly gets him is going to see that he’s only doing what’s right…

There’s so much wrong with that! Your hero does have flaws, right? He’s making regular mistakes, and selfish choices, etc, right? So Agethos shouldn’t just be going along. Plus Agethos should also be selfish and broken. Their flaws should rub each other the wrong way. They should have differing ideas about how to take on Edgar…

The second trap, is to let those disagreements be trivial. This is not a real disagreement:

“Ah, Thangar, my excellent companion,” Agethos said, pouring the remains of the previous night’s stew over their campfire. “If we take this road to the left, we’ll get out of the forest and feel the sun on our faces.”

“But, Agethos, my pungent companion,” Thangar answered as he lounged on his bedroll, watching his friend work. “If we take the right road, we can be at Edgar’s palace fifteen minutes sooner, and free the people of Novellia from his odious repulsivity that much sooner.”

“Good point, my wise confederate. To the right we go.”

This isn’t conflict. It doesn’t matter. Now, Agethos doing all the chores while Thangar lays around on his butt… that could be the seed for a deeper conflict.

Remember, the more challenge and adversity you throw at your hero, the more interesting your story will be, and the more those challenges and adversities are caused by your character’s own flaws, the more poignant your story will become.

So if you find your sidekicks becoming sycophantic suckups, bump them off and replace them with prickly characters that keep your hero on their toes!

How do you set your characters at one another’s throats? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments section.

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