I read time and time again that the best way to exploit your characters is to take them out of their comfort zones.

So I decided to write a story about a rule-obsessed official, riddled with OCD and fanatically devoted to her government, who ends up discovering the very system she has been serving is corrupt and has to join the Opposition (and a whole cast of weirdos and outcasts) to fight for the rule of law she supports.

Now the thing I struggle a bit with is how to make her take the first steps in that direction. How and what would push a fanatic who’s always been content with her place to look at stuff she never wanted to look at before, and how she could be dedicated to digging into stuff threatening her worldview (which she for sure doesn’t “want” to) before the actual tipping point, where she would be truly committed in fighting the unjust system.

How would she investigate when her indoctrination would obviously hold her back?

Do you have any tips to make this all look convincing?

Thanks in advance.

Hey Thomas, thanks for writing in!

First, I want to talk a little about the general premise of taking a character out of their comfort zone. The goal here is to raise tension, something even light stories want, and that generally requires taking a character out of their comfort zone to some degree, but it doesn’t always have to be so extreme.

For example, you could have a story about a battle-hardened berserker having to navigate the complex etiquette of a high society ball. That would be about as far out of their comfort zone as they could get. However, if your story is more focused on the battlefield, then you could do something like introduce a new type of enemy that the berserker doesn’t know how to fight. The key is to create a conflict that your hero can’t easily resolve, which leads to higher tension. If the story is business as usual for the hero, then it’ll feel like business as usual for the reader.

In the specific case of your character, it sounds like the issue is that you’ve created a character who doesn’t want to join the rebellion even though you need her to join the rebellion in order for the plot to work. I see two broad approaches you could take here:

  • You could create some kind of really intense event that makes her realize the government is evil.
    • Perhaps she’s doing the books and discovers some secret black-ops projects and the horror they’ve inflicted or what have you.
      • Whatever she discovers, it has to be intense enough to break her devotion.
    • A problem with this approach is that such an intense event may not fit in your story.
      • At the same time, you may get questions about how the character didn’t realize this before.
      • You might even get problems where the reader just doesn’t like this character who’s working for an obviously evil government.
  • Alternatively, you can tone down her devotion to the government and instead focus on other ways to get her out of her comfort zone.
    • If she’s a government official used to dealing with bureaucracy and working in an office, then the life of an outlaw rebel is plenty outside her comfort zone.
      • She doesn’t need to be fanatically loyal to the government to make that work.
    • Just remember to make sure she still has agency while being a fish out of water. It would be easy for a former official to feel useless in a group of veteran rebels.

Finally, I want to recommend some caution when giving a character obsessive-compulsive disorder. Remember that OCD is a condition that affects a lot of real people, and its symptoms are a lot more complex than just being devoted to the rules or wanting everything to be neat. If you’re not prepared to do the extra research and work necessary to properly portray OCD, I’d recommend just leaving that part out, as it’ll still be perfectly believable that a lifelong official is devoted to the rules.

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!

Keep the answer engine fueled by becoming a patron today. Want to ask something? Submit your question here.