Saturday, September 10, 2011

Defining Choices

Creating characters the reader will believe is not easy. If there is no depth of recognizable human quality presented, the character remains words. This does not mean only surface description, but includes the creation of a psyche. Often either an overly saintly or an irredeemably evil character comes off as unbelievable and leaves the reader puzzled as to why and maybe unable to continue the story. A reader wants to know a character's motivation eventually, perhaps because in reality everyone is both saint and sinner. Perhaps that is why a reader's imagination can give characters recognition as individuals.

Incredibly good people as well as depraved individuals exist in the real world, and sociologists, psychiatrists, other scientist, and even biographers have studied the cause for their behavior. These have been studied and well documented. A childhood filled with abuse and neglect might lead to criminal behavior, but not always. Privilege and love do not guarantee a sterling character for a child. No one makes the right choice all the time, and every choice a person makes not only marks them, but also those involved with them both close and distant.

Existence is inherently dangerous, and everyone is defined by the choices they make. This knowledge can provide authors a guide for fictional characters.

Have you ever seen an old cartoon with an angel perched on one of a character's shoulder, and a devil on the other? It is a perfect representation to tell us every individual has a propensity for unbelievable evil, and another for amazing good. We all make choices, both good and bad, even angels. Just consider the Devil, one concept of total evil, who began as Lucifer, supposedly one of God's favorite angles and the bringer of light.

Every choice comes layered with good fortune and misfortune. It's a matter of that pesky free will clause given mankind. Taking into account infinite variety, Murphy's Law, Chaos Theory, human nature, and our propensity for misunderstanding, and the result of any choice's good often becomes murky at best. What will result in cause and effect, good or evil, is not clearly marked on any collection of options. Sometimes what seems like a clear choice for good that becomes the opposite. Choices make angels demons, but can they make demons angels?

We have learned genetics can produce people prone to 'evil' choices. We've all heard of nature versus nurture, and certainly psychiatry has proved many qualities are found in every psyche. But not everyone with a genetic predisposition for certain behaviors or a psychological problem lending to antisocial behavior becomes a sociopath. Each condition only shows a likely choice the person will make, not the actual choice, and that is the territory where unexpected heroes and villains occur.

The choices that a character makes creates that character's personality, and provides a direct link to their believability in the story. So when creating in-depth characters, it seems logical to look at each character and see what his or her choices have been and where they have led. Within the characters' choices the author will discover their mistakes, their secrets, and their persona. All those choices provide dynamic fodder for plots that twist and turn like the proverbial Gordian's knot.

Stone House Farm

Rhobin's Rambes


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

You have perfectly defined the motivating factors in creating credible characters.

Humans are a complex lot. It's like picking flowers for authors to select the ones with the most diverse, yet believable petals.

Jude Johnson said...

What an excellent examination of why character development matters. We ask our readers to invest their time and hopefully their emotions in our storytelling; it behooves us to invest some thought and depth into our characters.

Thanks for this, Rhobin; I'm printing it out to keep in my writing log book.


Rhobin said...

Wow! Thank you both for those accolades. It is just a topic I'd been thinking a lot about lately.

desitheblonde said...

i love the cover and the info on the book and yes the devil and the angle can have fun with each other and the person and would love to read it a lot

Ramona Butler said...

Our community is struggling to understand this at present. The reason: A man known to be "gentle" carried an AK-47 into the local IHop and started shooting last week. Random. Result: five dead, including the gunman, from a self-inflicted wound. Why, why, why? Just one of those bad choices? That explanation is simple, yet complex. And so sad!