Every Wednesday, I post a writing prompt here. You write about it, if it tickles your creativity bone, and then come share what you wrote on Facebook to get some feedback and see what the other Ninjas have come up with. My goal with these prompts will to be to make them something that can move your current work-in-progress forward.
Chink in the Armor
I just finished reading K.L. Going’s incredible book Fat Kid Rules the World. It’s one of my very favorites and it was fun to read it again for my MFA program.
There’s a part of the book that’s stuck with me since the first time I read it. The two main characters, Curt and Troy, are in a diner and Curt is trying to explain something to Troy that he feels wrong even talking about (he relates it to talking about God), but he tries anyway because Troy is so important to him. He asks Troy to watch two seemingly perfect people, a man and a woman who look like they stepped out of a magazine, eat.
It takes half an hour, but all of a sudden Troy sees the chink in the perfect armor. He sees how hard they’re trying and it’s like seeing the man behind the curtain. Punk rock, Curt tells him, is playing music in that space and Troy lives there.
So, I thought this week for our writing prompt, it might be fun to think about where that chink in the armor is for our characters. What is it that your protagonist (or another character, or all of your characters) tries too hard to hide? What is the chink in their armor? What is the thing that, if they could just play there, would make them punk rock?
This is a good exercise, I think, because it deepens our understanding of our characters. No hero should be entirely heroic and no villain should be entirely villainous. Those chinks let their humanity through.
My protagonist is Rob Huntington. He’s smart and attractive and highly privileged–the heir to a Las Vegas casino. He’s a teenager, recently orphaned, who at the start of the story suddenly finds himself disconnected from this privileged life that he’s always led.
It took me a little bit to figure out what it is that Rob’s built an armor around–what he tries too hard at, that he wants the world to think is easy. I finally realized that he’s spent his whole life being compared to his larger-than-life, universally well-loved father. He knows, has always known, what his path is: he’ll finish his fancy boarding school (the same one his father attended) and go to Stanford (also like his father) and he’ll marry is best friend Mattie and someday, when his father retires (he never thinks of his father as dead until it happens), he’ll take over the Nott. But, he has to work hard to project to the world that he’s actually capable of any of that (except the being with Mattie part. That’s the only thing he’s certain of.)
He doesn’t think he’s smart enough. He doesn’t really believe that he’ll ever be able to fill his father’s shoes.
Those chinks in his armor–the flashes of the bullshit underneath–show in a couple of ways. He overcompensates and it comes across as arrogance. And he hesitates when hesitating could mean the difference between life and death.
I’ll talk about my antagonist, too, because this exercise really helped me with him. Guy has built a whole suit of armor around himself, to hide the fact that he feels inadequate. He was raised by his uncle in the same place as Rob, under similar circumstances–but he doesn’t have what Rob has. It seems to him that Rob has everything handed to him on a silver platter and that those same things are always just outside Guy’s reach.
It’s Guy’s flashes of envy that are the chinks in that armor. He has the potential to be a good man, to have a good life, but he tears it apart because nothing is ever good enough. He tries too hard to be better than a boy who he has no reason to even feel competitive with in the first place. It’s Mattie who sees those chinks the clearest, mostly because she also sees the potential in him the clearest.
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