Saturday, March 8, 2014

A few thoughts on character...

We are constantly evaluating character - consciously and subconsciously judging people by their appearance first (a book by its cover) until we can gather more information from their behaviour, mannerisms and interactions. Our current western social habits, especially of plastering images of celebrities over every possible medium and scrutinising their skin, weight, fitness and clothing choice, only encourages our propensity for this type of judgement. Although I am not entirely sure which is the chicken and which the egg in this equation. Suffice to say we do it all the time, mostly without much thought to what we are doing. We gather data continually both in terms of individual appearance and follow up behaviour (those folk with facial piercings helped that old lady across the street - facial piercings are not a deal breaker. That person is wearing a suit and tie, is clean shaven and has a smart haircut and just told his kid he's an idiot - bullying is a deal breaker, suits don't make the man). Personal interactions are collated and measured against commonly held views. And we roll along, making judgements, expanding our knowledge and refining our decisions.

So when you create your key characters in your novel remember they will be judged by their appearance and their behaviour. Who are they and how do you want other characters in your book to perceive them and how should the reader judge them. In the end you cannot predict how individuals will see your characters - they will arrive with their own baggage. You cannot please all of the readers all of the time. And you cannot make them judge your characters how you hoped they would. All you can do is decide who your character is and provide information that supports that. The richer your character, the more they speak and interact with others and demonstrate the kind of values, skills and attitudes they possess the more chance your reader will 'see' your character as you have envisaged them. But that will never guarantee your reader feels the same way about your character that you do. Your experience of those kind thoughtful facially pierced folk, and neat suit and tie wearing bullies is unique to you. The reader's experiences will influence their judgement. Some readers cannot cope with a character making a mistake they would never make or allow themselves, or behaving in a way they disapprove of, even if it is an opportunity for growth. And some readers might never see past a character's appearance or background no matter how they behave. Just make sure your character is who you intended them to be - and then set them free to make their own friends in the world. If you brought them up right their friends will be genuine.

2 comments:

Jane Bloomfield said...

Timely food for thought, thanks Melinda. My characters always seem to have a mind of their own. If only they could type!

Melinda Szymanik said...

I think characters having a mind of their own is a very good sign. It means they are behaving like real people which is what we are aiming for!