In this post we will review Genesis chapter 15 to see how character roles can affect the protagonist. There are two main influences in Abram’s life: the Lord God and Sarai his wife. I believe it’s safe to assume that both love Abram, want the best for Abram, and support Abram. This is how it should be with those in your inner circle. I’m sure you have a few close friends whose opinions and advice you esteem, who you lean on and trust. Your characters should also. And just like in real life, where people who you love can still hurt you, your character’s friends, confidants, and mentors shouldn’t be static and can shift into the roles of antagonists. The textbook definition of an antagonist is someone or something that prevents or hinders the protagonist from reaching their goal. Could it be the villain? Of course, it could. But could it also be a friend who is getting in the way? Now you’re writing interesting fiction.
In Genesis 15, Abram comes to God with his fears that he won’t fulfill God’s promise to one day become the father of a great generation. In verse two, Abram reminds God that he is childless and that all he has will pass down to his steward, Eliezer of Damascus. His emotions are on the table, raw doubt and fear, to which God replies, “Fear not.”
As the perfect friend, God encourages Abram to stay on the path toward the goal. He squashes his fear and doubt by reminding him of God’s promise to give him a son, even after Abram has been waiting for nearly fifteen years for this promise to be fulfilled. (verse4) God encourages Abram to count the innumerable stars comparing their numbers to the number of Abram’s descendents. (verse 5) God speaks life into Abram. He demonstrates the character of a true friend and Abram believes him. (verse 6)
Using this template, your secondary characters, friends, and sidekicks should be there to pick your protagonist up when they fall and do whatever it takes to help them reach their goal. I think the greatest sidekick character is Samwise Gamgee, who is so dedicated to this role that he literally carries Frodo up the slopes of Mount Doom to reach his goal. I’m actually going to compare to Sam throughout this chapter because he really was so well-written and is a character worth modeling your sidekick after.
Back to Genesis 15: Like any good friend, the truth must be spoken at all costs, and God does just that. In verse 12, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.” God shows Abram the burden his descendants will carry, Abram’s seed, his lineage, his family. “They shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years.” (verse13) What a terrible thing to hear! Why would God share this?
I believe he did it for two reasons. Firstly, because a good friend tells the truth at all costs. They don’t sugar coat and they don’t hold back to spare your feelings. They don’t manipulate; they tell it how it is. Secondly, each Bible story paints a picture of redemption. As an author, we weave our own message into our books. We sometimes take our experiences and retell them through plot points apparent throughout the entire story. Would the great author, God, do it any differently? What if God is sharing his heart for humanity through this passage? Like Abram, he knew his children would fall victim to slavery (sin) and be ruled by a stranger in a strange land (the devil, Eden). Yet, he still created us, knowing his only son would lay down his life as our sacrifice (which, to drive the point home, God asks Abram to sacrifice his own only son, Isaac, but we’ll get deeper into that later.) God allowed Abram to go in eyes wide open so the decision was made out of Abram’s free will. This is how we, as story gods, must approach storytelling with the sons and daughters (characters) we create.
Samwise is often the voice of reason in Frodo’s world, speaking the truth when no one else will; speaking the truth even when Frodo doesn’t want to hear it. Likewise, Jiminy Cricket plays the truth seeking conscious to Pinocchio and Timothy Q. Mouse plays the perfect sidekick to Dumbo, speaking truth, encouragement, and forcing him to reach for the goal.
The characters influencing your protagonist must serve their purpose well. They need to be supportive, yet truthful; selfless, yet honest. Have you created a sidekick who has the courage to speak the truth and the strength to carry the burden when the hero can’t? In what ways can you show conflict and tension between them as the protagonist fights against the sidekick’s good intentions? What happens when the protagonist refuses to comply?
In the next post, we’ll take a look at Sarai, Abram’s wife, to see how even a friend can become an antagonist when they interfere with the protagonist reaching their goals.
(This is an excerpt from Writing Your Novel, Using the Bible as Your Guide, published by A Writer For Life, LLC, which you can purchase from Amazon as a paperback or ebook.)