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Charlotte was Blood-Thirsty: Character Paradoxes

Charlotte, from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, is remembered as a character of great warmth for her friendship with the unlikely pig, Wilbur. Poor Wilbur, once the runt of the litter and saved only by the whim of a girl, is fattened up and ready for slaughter. (This is a story set on a working farm and, as such, it’s not a story of cruelty, but of practicality.) Only the spelling abilities of Charlotte save him.


Charlotte makes friends with Wilbur and even travels with him to the fairgrounds, so she can weave webs above his stall there. She has great wisdom, great commitment to her friend, and she’s blood thirsty. Well, she’s a spider, she has to be blood-thirsty, doesn’t she? Otherwise, she won’t eat. But in the context of friendship, it’s a sobering fact, a repugnant habit.

What paradoxes have you built into your characters to make them interesting?

  • Beautiful until she opens her mouth and croaks.
  • Obedient, yet with a love of taking risks.
  • Explorer with a formal dress at the bottom of her backpack.
  • Athletic, but has a weakness for doughnuts.
  • Self-reliant, yet lonely.
  • Dangerous, yet gentle.

To find appropriate paradoxes, you can work against the setting or with the setting. Of course, Charlotte would be “blood-thirsty” because spiders inject victims with venom that liquefies their insides; okay, technically then, not blood-thirsty but just on a liquid diet. But it works.

Do research about your character’s job, role, location, etc. Take for example, a football player from Kansas.

The cliched image of football players are rough, tough, not-so-smart (except the quarterback) big-muscled guys. A paradox would be a love of opera or ballet.

A Kansan lives in the prairies and is used to howling winter winds, farm life, livestock and tornadoes. A paradox would be someone with agoraphobia, or fear of open spaces.

What paradoxes can you add to your characters to enliven them?

1 Comment
  • Helen Landalf
    July 24, 2009

    I love this! A great thing to think about when creating characters.