The essence of the Character vs. Himself: the inner struggle. There may be many difficult circumstances in the character’s life, but the heart of the issue is the battle he has with himself.
My favorite example of this storyline is the 2006 movie 16 Blocks. Bruce Willis stars as NYPD detective Jack Mosley, a boozy, pessimistic guy who’s made his fair share of mistakes in life. Now he has to transport one man sixteen blocks from the station to the courthouse, but someone doesn’t want the prisoner to make it to court. Jack has to make a decision: take the easy way and turn the prisoner over, or do his job and keep the prisoner safe (at the risk of his own life). Obviously Jack’s taken the easy way before, but this time he hesitates. There are guns firing and people fighting around him, but the real story boils down to one question: what will Jack Mosley do?
And that is the heart of the Character vs. Himself plot. You could also think of it as the character’s moral dilemma – will he do what’s right or what’s easy?
It works great as a main storyline, but it’s also a common subplot, and one that works well in any novel with an antagonist. For example:
- Darth Vader: His entire life is a battle between light and dark – will he choose to control himself or will he give in to the dark side?
- Almost every character on Once Upon a Time: Snow White. Emma Swan. Captain Hook. Throughout the series, each of these characters (and several more!) have had to make a decision – vengeance or forgiveness? It doesn’t matter who the villain is, because the core of the subplot always comes back to one character deciding for himself which path he will choose.
This storyline works across several genres, whether it’s the main plot or the subplot. If you have a character that you love, but you’re not sure if he’s the hero or villain, consider the Character vs. Himself plot so you and the reader can see what the character is really made of.
What’s your favorite Character vs. Himself story?
Stop by in two weeks for a look at Character vs. God. If you missed the last post, you can read about Character vs. Character here.