Using Discontentment in Character Development

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Or for most of us, ’tis the season for busyness, stress, and discontentment. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is still my favorite time of year, all of the parties, the decorations, surrounded by friends and family, nothing is better….when I am in the right state of mind.

To be honest, I have been struggling this year with being satisfied. With more time spent perusing social media, shopping for gifts, and creating my own wish lists, the green-eyed monster of discontentment has been feeding well off the envy, growing steadily fatter and impossible to ignore.

I have had to keep this monster in check, depriving him of his food supply by turning off my phone and reminding myself of all that I am blessed with, instead of focusing on what I do not have. When you covet what others have, scrounging through their lives for things that should be yours, you miss the wonderful treasures in yours.

Now, discontentment isn’t always a bad thing. As a writer, it is one of the more powerful tools we can wield. You see, characters don’t just do things without reason, they don’t wake up one day and magically change their lives, without something compelling them to do so. If they are completely satisfied in every way, they will be completely risk adverse, not only lacking motivation for change, but avoiding it at all costs.

Are your characters lacking depth or does their journey feel fake, forced into existence by you the narrator? Here are some questions you can ask about your characters that will help you determine how to drive them to life change, to discover what they truly care about. (P.S. These are awesome questions to ask yourself too…especially when you feel like your are lacking purpose of direction in your life.)

What makes your character rise from bed every morning? What keeps them awake at night, sleep illusive in the wake of their thoughts? What change do they want to inspire in the world, or if not that, what bugs them so much about the world that they would give anything to change it, even their own selfish comforts? 

All heroes have a cause and every cause is sparked by discontent. Use it!

Talvenesh Dikari, or Tal for short, the main character in my upcoming novel, is bored with his life. He dreams of adventure, of stories, of travel outside of his hometown of Shaharith. His brother Rorun left on his Chalech two years earlier, leaving Tal alone, wishing he could have gone along. (When citizens of Salir reach the age of 18 they participate in the holy journey of visiting each of the twelve cities in remembrance of their god Kaldesh).

Tal is sheltered and innocent, the product of a rural town and community living, isolated from the rest of the world, ignorant of its inner workings. His life is one of comfort and repetition, the dream of many of his neighbors, but his never ending nightmare. He longs for more, a life filled with meaning, a life of change.

So is it any surprise that when conflict arises, he leaps off the cliff willingly, with nothing holding him back, with not even a parachute to guide his fall?

Conflict and discontentment, when properly married, drive action in your book, and that’s what we want right…action? We have all read fantasy novels that drone on and on, finding yourself 100 pages in without even the breath of intrigue. Well, author, you need to spice it up a little! A pinch of discontentment followed by a splash of conflict and suddenly you’re the book that is read by a flashlight under the covers of someone’s bed in the middle of the night, stealing valuable sleep away from the masses.

Maybe it is not your book that needs some flavor, but your life! What makes you tick? What ticks you off? What is your discontent?


Suggested Reading (My dad had me read this book in High School and I have thought about it ever since, some of the principles of this post comes from what I learned in this book):

Holy Discontent: Fueling the Fire that Ignites Personal Vision by Bill Hybels


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