|Author James Callan|
Contrast Is What Allows Us to See
Frequently, we receive the advice to have things coordinated, matching. The pillows should match the bedspread. The shirt should match the pants. The earrings should match the necklace. The furnishing in the house should match.
But it is the contrast that makes the different pieces stand out.
I had two friends in college. One was six feet four inches tall, the center of the basketball team. (Yes, it was a long time ago when that was actually tall.) His best friend was five feet six inches tall. Mutt and Jeff, we sometimes called them. But everybody noticed them when they were walking across campus. Contrast.
Jewelers will show crystal clear diamonds on black velvet. Contrast.
A perfectly clear blue sky is pretty. Put a single, shinning white cloud in the middle. Both the cloud and the sky become more beautiful, the contrast enhancing both. Bring in an angry, dark thunderhead and you not only have contrast and beauty, but now you have added drama to the picture.
Robert Parker knew the value of contrast. He developed a macho protagonist in Spenser, a wise-cracking, ex-cop with his own code of honor. But, there is a contrast in Spenser, as he likes to cook and has a committed relationship with Susan Silverman, a sophisticated lady and Harvard professor. And then, to add to the contrast, Parker introduces Hawk. While Spenser speaks well, sometimes eloquently, Hawk’s speech is abrupt, street talk. Hawk has his own code, and is a gun for hire. Parker used these contrasts to propel forty Spenser novels to best-seller status. (Ace Atkins has continued the Spenser books with two since Parker’s death. Spenser lives on.)
In my book on character development (Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel – Oak Tree Press 2013) I suggest that you develop a sidekick for the protagonist and that there be a distinct contrast between the two. Make the sidekick a carbon copy of the protagonist and all you’ve really done is add another pair of hands. You’ve wasted an opportunity. Here is an opportunity to highlight features of the protagonist that you’d like to emphasize. In addition, the contrast can also add small conflicts, and we know that conflict is a core element of the novel.
In A Ton of Gold, I pair a street-wise high school graduate with a near-Ph.D. research computer scientist. Both are intelligent, but in contrasting ways. Crystal Moore, the protagonist, is highly educated. Brandi Brewer is street smart. Periodically, Brandi will say to Crystal, “Didn’t you learn anything as a kid?” Brandi learned a lot growing up on the street. Crystal learned a lot in classrooms. It is Crystal who learns from Brandi.
I highlight their differences throughout the book. This contrast helps emphasize features of the protagonist that I want to underscore without my beating the reader over the head. By juxtaposing the two, I can show features without having to tell the reader. And it is this “opposite type” character, Brandi, who helps Crystal find her way to the solution – well, at least for the subplot.
So, remember to use this important writer’s tool, contrast, to emphasize certain things, to add minor (or major) conflicts, to bring additional drama into the story, to improve your novel.
James R. Callan
A Ton of Gold, Oak Tree Press, 2013
Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel, Oak Tree Press, 2013
A Ton of Gold
A contemporary mystery / suspense novel
Can long forgotten, old folk tales affect the lives of people today? In A Ton of Gold, one certainly affected young, brilliant Crystal Moore. Two people are killed, others threatened, a house burned and an office fire-bombed – all because of an old folk tale, greed and ignorance.
On top of that, the man who nearly destroyed Crystal emotionally is coming back. This time he can put an end to her career. She’ll need all the help she can get from a former bull rider, her streetwise housemate and her feisty 76 year-old grandmother.
A Ton of Gold
By James R. Callan
From Oak Tree Press, Feb. 2013
On Amazon, in paperback, at: http://amzn.to/UQrqsZ
Or the Kindle edition at: http://amzn.to/12PeHJb
Or from Oak Tree Press at: http://bit.ly/WJXcWl
Blog site: www.jamesrcallan.com/blog
Book website: www.atonofgold.com