Guest Post: How I Increased Narrative Tension by Giving My Protagonists Psychologically Realistic Flaws

Noah Lemelson is a short story writer and novelist who lives in LA with his wife and cat. Lover of Science Fiction, Fantasy, New Weird, and Punk. He received his BA in Biology from the University of Chicago in 2014 and received his MFA in Creative Writing from the California Institute of the Arts in 2020. He has had several of his short stories published in both print and online magazines, such as Allegory, Space Squid and the Outsider’s Within Horror Anthology. Visit his website here to learn more about him and his upcoming book.

I’m not into the whole Chosen One thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to toss a hot take that all Chosen One narratives are bad. Like any trope they can be done well. But it has been done, and done, and done, and done some more. When I sat down to write The Sightless City (then “Untitled Lazarus Roache Project”), I wanted to tell a story about comparatively normal characters, not heroes chosen by gods or destiny. But normal does not mean boring. Too often books allow their protagonist to become dullest character. It’s a genuine challenge to make sure your point of view character is not just some window with legs, but a full and complex human being (or fantastical human being equivalent).

My strategy to make my POV interesting was to make each protagonist flawed in some significant way. They would be united in their opposition to Lazarus Roache, but I wanted each of their struggles to be individual and internal. They had been wronged, but they were not passive victims, they had active flaws that got them into their situations, and make it more difficult for them to escape.

To both explain what I mean, and to give a hint at how to write realistically flawed characters, let’s talk about the self-narratives. We each have a narrative about ourselves, explanations for what we have done, what we are doing, what we will do, and why. Often identities are a big part of this, labels either given to us or chosen by us (often a bit of both). These self-narratives give us a sense of who we are, and influence our future decisions, but they aren’t necessarily “true.” I’m not saying they’re always “false” either, obviously. It’s just that self-narrative are, like everything in society, constructions, ideas that are sometimes based on facts, sometimes on emotion, but often come from a blurry mix of reality, emotion, and expectation.

Marcel Talwar is a war hero. He fought to free Huile, giving up his leg and losing his friends in a fight for freedom. This is the identity he was given and one he embraces fully. But there is another narrative, another possible identity. Marcel Talwar is a war criminal. He caused thousands of brutal deaths. This alternative reading of his actions, as factual as his other identity, is abhorrent to Marcel. He does not actively consciously consider this possibility, and I don’t explicitly call him out on it in the book, but on some level he is aware of this darker narrative. This other interpretation does not make him question his war hero status, quite the opposite. He is so utterly convinced he is a war hero because the alternative possibility is so horrid. This leads to a massive emotional block preventing him questioning from his own decisions and the outcomes of those decisions. This is a significant character flaw. Marcel is a good person, in that he tries to be a good person and do good things, but he can be blind to reality when that reality threatens to unravel his self-narrative.

Sylvaine also has her own issues with self-narratives and identity. She is a Ferral, a beast-person, discriminated against her whole life. Ideally, she might find pride and security in her identity, and create a positive self-narrative, but she is unable to. Instead, she seeks to reject her Ferral-ness and prove, to the world and herself, that she is something more. This self-defense mechanism has found its focus in Ætheric Engineering. Ferrals are stereotypically considered primitive and simple. Engineering is the exact opposite of that, civilized and intelligent. She believes subconsciously that if she can just become an engineer, that will prove she is not just a mere bestial Ferral. She believes it will prove, to the world and herself, that she is deserving of respect and dignity. That’s not to say her interest in engineering is not genuine. She does actually love engineering, but her obsession is colored with a desperate self-loathing brought on by years of bullying and discrimination. Of course, this is what makes her inability to control æther so devastating, it’s not just the death of a dream, in an assault on the identity she is trying to claim, a cut into an old and deep wound. She keeps trying again and again to become an engineer, each failure just building more self-loathing, and as her desperation grows, as does her willingness to make questionable decisions if she thinks it might make her a real engineer.

Of course, its not just enough for these characters to have flaws, to have contradictions in their self-narratives, but these flaws need to manifest as actual conflicts in the plot. (I mean you could have a fully internal narrative, that might be interesting, but genre conventions for fantasy mean that at some point, something in the world has to change in meaningful and usually violent ways). So in comes Lazarus Roache, who, unlike the protagonists, is not trying in the least to be a good person. He is able to manipulate the protagonists not through simple threats or bribery, but by playing on their self-narratives, and their desperation to be the person they think they are.

So then the tension of the story becomes two-fold. 1) Will my protagonists defeat the villains. And 2) Will my protagonists be able to work through the inner contradictions own sense of self? But these two conflicts are interconnected, failing to stop the villains can push them deeper into holes of their own psyche, while these flaws can in turn prevent them from effectively fighting the villain. To resolve the external conflict, they have to overcome their internal ones, and those are often much more complex and difficult to face. And I think, also more interesting to read about.

Podcast Episode: Booked All Night

Hey friends! My latest podcast appearance just went live this morning, so I wanted to quickly share it with everyone. Booked All Night is a fantastic YA book blog that I love, and I’ve been working with them for quite a few weeks now. I posted both a guest post and an excerpt of Chasing Fae with them as part of my book launch blog tour. Jess, Maggie, and Dan were a great trio of hosts who had me laughing and sharing plenty of stories about the creation of Chasing Fae and my plans for book 2. I hope you’ll take a listen!

Booked All Night Podcast (site)


Guest Post: Worldbuilding – Seeing The World In Different Colors

The possibilities of the human mind are endless. Man’s ability to imagine & manifest its thoughts into action has given us the ability to understand and create worlds. Literature has given us access to many worlds.

For centuries people have been reading and telling stories about Camelot, Shangri-La, and Utopia. Children have been in and out of Neverland whenever they hear the story of Peter Pan. Ancient Norsemen have always believed that if you die fighting on the battlefield, it secures you a place in Valhalla. During ancient times when science was at its infancy, people believed worlds such as Hades, Tartarus, and The Abyss were real.

Although these worlds are now used in science to represent the state of minds that are in anguish, their origins have always felt real. Why so? These stories seem real to many because it is rooted in our imagination, told over and over again through time. That’s why fiction has always been fascinating for everybody.

Worldbuilding is essential when creating a fantasyland. The works of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are the perfect examples. Their written work was so vivid, and it has become an inspiration for modern creators who make use of interactive aural & visual media, such as films and video games. Bring out your colorful rainbow lenses because, in this article, we are going to tackle the crucial elements of how to create our fantasyland.

Let us start with the most obvious:


It is one of the most important elements of worldbuilding. It lays out the world’s basic landscape features. The best way to depict geography is to create a map of your fantasy world. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, he wrote and described the map of “Middle Earth,” where it’s divided into hemispheres. 

Physical geography is going to be the baseline of how the world you created would be. For example, in the futuristic world of “Elysium,” there are two major locations. First, the futuristic arc-like space station, and the rugged, post-apocalyptic remains of planet Earth. They equipped this space station with facilities that constitute the perfect living conditions for man, while the other shows the exact opposite.


Culture plays a major role in portraying how characters in your storylines get their act together. It starts by giving a backgrounder on the origins of the characters, what influences them, their customs, and the things they regularly do. In a nutshell, it shows the character’s civilization.

Here are some important features to consider when creating a culture for your fantasy world:

  1. Power: This facet of culture shows the hierarchy of who has the control, influence, and authority. It may also show the struggles each character must go through and how to achieve it. 
  2. Religion: Though it may become controversial to a certain point, this facet of culture may create an added impact to your world. By creating deities and the methods of their worship, it adds definition to the storyline.
  3. Government: This facet of culture makes any storyline more interesting, especially on how they manifest power. It should tackle systems within your storyline, and the laws that govern the world you created. 
  4. Relationships: It is what makes every storyline to every person. Relationships give colors to the characters and add depth.

Social Classes

This element of worldbuilding shows how the characters thrive in their world. It shows the diversity of the people within the story and creates a picture of people with different cultures, and how they handle their situations. 

Like for example, in the game Starcraft, there are three different species (cultures), each with different social classes. There are several social classes, namely the warriors, healers, thinkers, slaves, and kings. These are similar to real-world social classes, which makes them relatable to many. 


A good storyline can become more interesting if a major historical event is behind it. So if you’re planning to create a series for your storyline, it would be great if you could link a piece of history (from previous works) to your present and future production.

You could consider traumatic events, like, for example, on George Martin’s “Game of Thrones” character, Daenerys Targaryen. Her story starts as a royalty who was given by her brother to the Dothraki as a “gift” to the Khal, who later emerged as the queen of many kingdoms as her story goes. With this kind of history, linked to the characters in the world you created, would make your storyline very fascinating.


Adding something unexplainable in worldbuilding is the makings of a good storyline. Magic makes people wonder how certain mysterious powers came to be. Like many fiction works, magic comes from many sources; it can come from magical beings bestowing its “powers” unto another character. It can be something that the character was born with, but he or she doesn’t know it yet. It can be artifacts or things that heroes wield. 

For example, the Norse god of thunder, Thor uses his magical hammer, Mjolnir, to create thunderstorms and summon lightning bolts. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when Thor’s hammer was lost, “Stormbreaker” an enchanted ax was forged for him. This magical ax has the same powers as Mjolnir and can summon the Bifrost, a bridge that connects Asgard (The realm of the gods) and Midgard (Earth).


In worldbuilding, this is the opposite of magic because technology explains how something works, and why it works. Although it may be fictional, it is based mainly on science. Adding technology into your storylines can make younger generations appreciate your work more. 

A good example of that is the Iron Man suit, based on Stan Lee’s works. In his work, billionaire Tony Stark created a suit of armor that attacks like a tank and flies like a plane. This technology was explained further in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; a world created based on the works of Stan Lee.

With all of these elements incorporated in your worldbuilding, you can create a masterpiece out of them. These details you created from each element may not suit every storyline, but you can always use them later. Make sure that each of these elements complement each other in the storyline you are making, and your worldbuilding won’t go amiss.

Author Bio

Lydia is a fashion blogger. She works at a tech company and writes as a freelancer for several fashion magazines both local and international. She has a pet terrier named Fugui. Follow her Twitter.