Analyzing the Best Character with Conflicts and Goals
George R. R. Martin is a genius despite, how long it takes for him to release his books. I have such a love/hate relationship with the Song of Ice and Fire series and Martin’s partnership with HBO. Still, Martin’s characters are some of the most vivid and realistic depictions of real people I have ever seen. Every character in every scene is true to life and wants something, which is good since Martin likes to kill off so many of them. If you’re reading the books or watching the show and find yourself getting attached to a main character then it is best to forget your relationship and start favoring the supporting character. Odds are Martin is going to kill off that character and give the Point of View (POV) to a secondary character with their own narrative.
Writing Internal and External Conflict
In this week’s Wednesday Writer’s Workshop, I wrote about using internal and external conflict to make your characters seem more realistic. Those conflicts should stand in the way of the character achieving his or her goals. None could feel more real with internal and external conflict and ambition than Tyrion Lannister.
That’s what I do. I drink and I know things.
Martin writes each chapter of his books from the POV of a certain character and rotates through several different characters throughout the course of a book. Tyrion is one of the two remaining original POV characters from book one: A Game of Thrones making it, so far, to the end of book five: A Dance with Dragons. The reader has had five books to learn about Tyrion, but from book one we know he was a dwarf, his family was the richest in the land, he was the brother-in-law to the king (during the first book), he drank and read a lot, and he was fond of whores.
The world of knights and horses was not kind to a dwarf. Tyrion himself admitted were he not born into a noble family he would have been abandoned as a baby. However, no gold in the land could buy Tyrion acceptance from the many of the people he encountered. His nickname Imp would follow him wherever he went.
Tyrion was haunted by his past. His older brother, Jaime, was always kind, but his older sister, Cersei, hated him. She would torment or neglect him as a child. Their mother died in childbirth with Tyrion and his father, Tywin, hated him for it.
…A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much Jon Snow.
Tyrion suffered in his lack of relationships and the feeling of inadequacy. Due to his height, he was unable to act as a lord’s son and had to deal that emotional turmoil. Without a close relationship with his sister and none with his mother, Tyrion married a whore when he was a boy, and his father ended the marriage. He dreamed of having a relationship with his father, but Tywin would always him for the death his wife’s death. All of this left Tyrion to a life of drinking, reading, and more whoring.
Tyrion dealt with being a dwarf in a world where a man’s value was placed on his brawn and prowess on the battlefield, whether peasant or noble. His physical size would impede him in everything he did. Another conflict was that of his position. He did not want to be the drunk Imp or the Hand of the King. He wanted to be lord of his family’s castle. He still fulfilled his duties as was expected of him when it was his time to serve in the capital.
Internal and External Conflict Keeping the Character from their Goal
In book two: A Clash of Kings, all of Tyrion’s internal and external conflicts came to life at the Battle of Blackwater Bay. He led the defense of the capital city from an invading army from land and sea. He struggled to lead men into battle, who did not respect his stature, to defend his royal nephew, who abhorred him for his cleverness. Another external conflict during the battle was a fight for survival itself. In the end, Tyrion held off the attacking force long enough for his father to ride in and save the day.
Tyrion’s Ultimate Goals
Tyrion wanted the affection of his father and to be lord of his family’s castle known as Casterly Rock. These two goals coincided with Tyrion’s internal and external conflicts. Since his wife died in childbirth with Tyrion, Tywin despised his son. Their relationship grew more taxed as the years went by. Tyrion would never achieve this goal, and Tywin’s last breaths were curses for his son.
Casterly Rock was Tyrion’s by rights and he only wanted to be named the heir before his father’s death. Jaime, the oldest and Tywin’s choice for an heir, was sworn to the King’s Guard and forfeited his claim to the family castle. Cersei was a woman and had no property rights to the family seat. It should have gone to Tyrion, but he had not attained it by the time the books (and the show) ended. Perhaps, The Winds of Winter will see the dwarf in his family seat.
What Writers Can Learn from Tyrion
Your readers might never hold off an attacking force, have killed their mother in childbirth, drink constantly and go whoring, or be a dwarf in the world of knights and armor, but they can understand the feeling of inadequacy Tyrion felt. Carl Beucher said,
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
Always be looking for ways to connect your characters to the reader, regardless of the setting. Most readers will have nothing in common with Tyrion on the surface, but everyone can connect with him in some way in regards to emotion. Whether that emotion is inadequacy, loneliness, lack of self-worth, broken relationships, love for reading, cleverness, organization, riddles, vengeance, or wine, your characters should make a deep connection to the reader on an emotional level.
The internal and the external conflicts are the emotional and the physical struggles of the characters, which are critical for your story. As I mentioned on Wednesday, people read stories about people. Whether they are aliens in a science fiction story or elves in a fantasy, your characters should be relatable on some level to your readers. Sometimes it is via physical traits, but most of the time it should be on an emotional level. We are emotionally driven creatures and so should your characters.
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