Thursday, May 15, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 20)

I'm a day late, so I'll make it up by posting anyway.

Humans Are Human

Humans are complicated creatures. They do many suboptimal things. Consider these human traits when fleshing out your characters.

Humans Are Incorrect

Every character has some point of view which is wrong, unacceptable, or unfashionable. This creates points of tension within a story. These beliefs will certainly send them in wrong directions at times, or send them colliding with other characters. That’s what you want. If nothing else, these wrong views makes otherwise perfect characters more human.

Functionally, having a wrong character allows your story to progress less linearly, giving you twists and turns which entertain the reader. If the detective knew who the murderer was right away, the mystery would be awful short, wouldn’t it? If the protagonist in a thriller knew that he was walking into a precarious situation early on, he would likely avoid it. But he does walk in, and on that hangs a desperate story. The ignorance and mistakes of  your characters work in the story’s favor.

A less linear book also means more words. By going in wrong directions, you add to your word count without padding the book. You can overdo that, of course. I’ve seen pros overdo it in vast chapters of pointlessness, so use the technique with restraint. Don’t go overboard.

Humans Make Bad Decisions

An effective character has both temptations and misjudgements. Temptations are those things which irrationally appeal to the character, while misjudgements are those decisions made without perfect information. While they seem different, the effects on the character is the same: both these aspects provide self-created woe to the character.

Temptations can provide especially powerful motivators. The story of the alcoholic, the drug addict, and the lovelorn still entertain audiences. The reader understand just how powerful temptations can drive a character.

Misjudgements are those places where we disagree with a character, yet we can see why a character made the choice. In an optimal world, we would always have all the time in the world to make perfect judgements, but they  we are rushed, frazzled, scared, or angry, humans say and do things that they regret later. Those mistakes lead to complications, and complications lead to more interesting stories.

Humans Lie

All humans lie. Sometimes we lie big, and often we lie small. That’s just what we do. Humans lie to get advantage, make themselves look good, to reduce conflict, and to regulate social interaction. General truthfulness is good, but absolute truthfulness is a comedy trope.

Lies add to stories by sending characters in the wrong direction, or setting up future conflicts when characters learn the truth. Lies beget such wonderful feelings as betrayal, anger, irritation, and alienation.