Can your character be as complex as you?

6 Jun

I told my son about Father Christmas.

The Easter Bunny left eggs hidden in the garden.

The tooth fairy will visit during the night and leave a gift under the pillow.

The above are all little white lies I have told my son, and will soon tell my daughter. They trip off the tongue. These lies have been told so many times that I am not sure they are lies anymore. They are just stories that enhance being a child.

As adults, telling lies is the worst thing. Dishonesty and not being true are frowned upon. But how many of us can say that we are 100% real, 100% of the time.

I can’t.

But not because I am deceitful – well, I don’t think I am. At what point does protecting someones feelings go from being a caring act, to a nasty lie? I know when I have been told that an act was carried out to protect me it has made me mad, but likewise I never mean to hurt someone when I am looking out for their best interests.

In a less thought-provoking way, would you tell someone that they look bad in what they are wearing? The classic does my bum look big in this, should always be answered truthfully in my opinion. I have often told my friends and family that I don’t like what they are wearing. Not to be horrible, but because I would want them to tell me the truth.

I once told someone that I would be embarrassed to be seen in public with them. They were truly offended. They did not see what was wrong in the way that they presented themselves, but hand on heart, that was how I felt.

Now I know, it is not my place to tell someone what they can and can’t wear. If you want to have a Mohican, or sleek blonde hair, that is YOUR choice. If I choose to be seen in public with you, that is MY choice.

I know this blog post is showing a side of me that some people may feel offended by, it is shallow and somewhat nasty to think the way I do. But it is honest and it is me.

For as honest and open I can be about something so superficial, I was faced with an incident that for me, was quite important, but I found I could not respond.

This has left me in that no mans land of indecision. Should I say something now and potentially risk an upset, or do I allow it to pass on the surface, knowing deep down it will cause resentment on my part. On the one hand I am upfront and at times down right out of order, yet I hold this nervous twitch of anxiety on the inside.

A character could never be allowed to be this complex. To place on the surface a mixture of approach such as I have just shown, would lead the reader into a world of confusion, and they will claim that the character is not believable. Specifically the protagonist should be clean lined in all of their beliefs and acts. This makes writing easier, but it is unmistakably misleading.

The classic red-headed female protagonist with the fiery temper (Yes Charlotte, your twitter conversation has been drawn on) maybe stereotypical of what we typically expect, but I know three red heads incredibly well, only one of which has a temper. Similarly, blondes do not have more fun, if you have mousey hair this does not make you meek, and if you are bald you are not always old.

If I was to depict an indecisive character, would this be deceitful to my readers? For example, if my character had mousey hair, loved to party and got in fights every night, would it then be misleading to find the same mousey hair character curled up on the sofa drinking cocoa worrying about her actions the night before? What if they were to then apologise, but repeat the same action the following night. Having not shown true remorse would it be seen as a filler to the plot and not an intentional act?

As writers we have to be so careful. If we do not explain our choices, or show (telling is bad) why our character is the way they are, we run the risk of being accused of poor characterisation, or even worse, poor writing. But is that fair?

I am not 100% anything. I do not even have a specific dress size. To attempt to explain me could take a life time. Is this why as writers we choose to write caricatures? An inflated idea. or is it that, as readers, we are unable to accept the complexity of the workings of the inner mind?

Have you got a trait in your personality that could not be translated into a protagonist? Or is it, that I have this wrong – can characters be as complex as we really are?

4 Responses to “Can your character be as complex as you?”

  1. alexlaybourne June 8, 2011 at 5:34 am #

    I understand where you are coming from with this. I have often had lines of dialogue and scenes which when read back seemed too óut of character’ for those involved. This then creates a pressure as you said the fear of being cited for poor characterisation or lazy writing, and I end up either changing of deleting sais scene / exchange. When really is the inconsistent character traits – your mousey haired rock chick fighter – that should give the depth and realism to characters. So long as it is done well.

    Iam just the sme. In the office where I have to work I am chatty and out going, but in real life I am (to be brutally honest) a loner, with not one friend (internet ones not included) other than my wife, and I never go out anywhere. This conflict is who I am and that is hard to capture on paper, especially with the avoidance of ‘telling’.

    If this can be mastered, and I am sure you can do it, then your writing will be much richer for it.

    • Ellie June 8, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

      As you will see Alex from my response to Jessica I have had a complete turn around on my views. Isn’t it strange how a simple nod can make you completely re think your views.

      I would assume, that to describe a character with a personality as yours, if the reader i saying, ‘well that doesn’t fit’ you just haven’t done it very well. Nobody can be placed in a box, if they could friendships wouldn’t grow or fizzle out.

      Thanks for sharing such an intimate part of your personality – i’m glad I’m not the only one that a) is happy to share about themselves online and b) has different personalities (I hope that is not offensive because it is not supposed to be!)

  2. Jessica S June 8, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    You say, “A character could never be allowed to be this complex.” I absolutely and totally, 100% disagree with you on this! To me, this type of juxtaposition of a character is exactly what keeps them real and intriguing. I suppose that it may take more words to round them out, but who cares?

    For me, I appreciate the characters long after I appreciate the story being played out by them. If you’re writing a screenplay, perhaps you have to stay a little truer to one aspect of the character, but if it’s a novel–definitely not. Explore their every little tick.

    All of my characters get an odd hobby of some sort. You’ll only find it mentioned once or twice, but every one of them has one (so far).

    The characterization that you provide here about yourself and your characters is the exploration of self that truly produces great literature–not just fiction, but actually LITERATURE. Let the reader figure out the truest self behind the character.

    Ellie, if you can make your characters grapple (is that a word??) with the same inner inconsistancies and outward compromises on truth that we all struggle with, you’ll have yourself some amazing, epic characters!!

    • Ellie June 8, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

      Thanks Jessica.

      You know it is quite bizzarre. As i was writing this post I completely neglected my current protagonist, Bev Clarkson.

      As a detective, she is one of those fully in control, cold as ice women. She doesnt join in the office gossip, and very much keeps herself to herself. She has strong views that oppose most traditional views of female detectives as portrayed in novels.

      At home Bev shows a different side. As mother to teenage daughter Jessica (ha), she is constantly battling with herself to maintain her work image, so as to not play into the teenage tantrums. Needless to say she fails miserably. Likewise, when she develops a crush on her superior everything that went before slips away.

      I wouldn’t call Bev epic, but she is certainly an intriguing character that I love to write. Her lines just trip off my fingers. Whether I have at this stage managed to captivate what I view as Bev at this time within the work, I cannot say categorically. I do know though it will be fun developing her further – especially with this post and the responses tugging at my mind.

      I think it is a real challenge that this post has now set me. I hope I can pull it off. it will be interesting to see if it can be done well within one novel, or whther to complete the full character as her most complex I would need to look to write further novels. Ooh a series…i like that idea alot!

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