This week: Out of CharacterEdited by: Joy The Masked Ghoul
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“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”
“I've committed to nothing...and that's just suicide...by tiny, tiny increments.”
Nick Hornby, High Fidelity
“Clever's not enough to hold me - I want characters who are more than devices to be moved about for Effect.”
Laura Anne Gilman
“She was not just a wild creature, she was a wounded creature.”
Iris Murdoch, The Message to the Planet
Hello, I am Joy The Masked Ghoul , this week's drama editor. This issue is about writing the fictional character who may suddenly act out of character.
Thank you for reading our newsletters and for supplying the editors with feedback and encouragement.
Please, note that there are no rules in writing, but there are methods that work for most of us most of the time.
The ideas and suggestions in my articles and editorials have to do with those methods. You are always free to find your own way and alter the methods to your liking.
Welcome to the Drama newsletter
Whenever I acted naughtily or threw a tantrum in front of other people, my mother used to say, “She is just acting out of character. She is not like this at home.”
Poor woman! I know now how she felt like and why she tried to make excuses for my behavior. It had to be because she thought she had something to do with my existence and felt that some of the blame lay with her. The same goes for the writers, too. We take the blame for the out-of-character actions of the people we create in our stories.
Yet, what if such actions of a character arose from good reasons or a plausible background? Is that action an outlandish stunt or does that add to the story? Surely, anyone may snap suddenly, but what causes that snap?
That is why I think it is a good idea to hint at the reason or the background for that out-of-character action earlier in the story before that action takes place. This way, no reader will blame us for the unusual behavior of our characters.
Another way to make that misbehavior understandable is to create a situation or a reason to push your characters’ buttons. Still, a hint earlier why those buttons can be pushed would come in handy. This is because plot, character, and the background are inherently linked.
On the plus side, a different reaction or action from a character may animate the story to add depth and complexity. Also, readers’ attentions are suddenly sparked when the unexpected happens. A reader may think, somewhat in shock, ‘Why is this meek character suddenly roaring like a lion?’
Yet another way could be the character feeling shocked at his own behavior. “Why did I do or say that? I thought I knew me…” It can be worthwhile to let that character ruminate on this disbelief of himself.
The most difficult job is in choosing a player in the story who will act out of character to add intrigue to the action. This can be found inside the Dramatis Personae.
On the list of characters, it can be a good move to rate the players according to their predictability, and ask questions such as: Who is the star? Who is the most suspicious? Who is too good or too bad? Whose sudden turnabout would startle or confound the antagonist? Who is too pleasant or too annoying? When we ask these questions, finding the right person to act out of character when the action dulls should be a cinch.
Furthermore, while creating the characters and putting together a character sheet, it may also be a good idea to ask these or similar questions.
• What is it about this character that no one knows?
• Did this character have a secret yen or resentment that never surfaced in his or her day-to-day dealings?
• What is this character’s most secret weakness?
• Which kinds of external triggers--sounds, smells, photos, words, a certain song, a certain belief, a foreign language, etc.--can bring up his hidden emotions?
• If the character has been acting in accordance with the rules, is he getting tired of it and wants to react differently from before? If so, give that emotion some brewing time. This emotion can be internal or external, and you can easily build up and elaborate on this.
• Check the character’s psychological make-up. What do you see in there that could trigger an out-of-character action? Could that be the result of something like excess pride, a caring for someone else, a distant event, or a hidden feeling of persecution?
It is certain that powerful fiction plays to forceful and gripping extremes. Think about stories such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Don Quixote, Harry Potter, etc. They are all out of the ordinary and show extreme events. That is why, as writers, we shouldn’t be afraid of the extremes, and we shouldn’t fear our fictional people’s acting out of character, as long as they are within the boundaries of the theme and plot. Who knows, for us, such action might just elevate an acceptable, ordinary fiction to the extraordinary, spectacular one.
Until next time!
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This Issue's Tip: For the out-of-character action to work for the benefit of the story, we must be sure that the character is an important one with enough traits established, and he or she has a valid reason to act this way.
Feedback for " Layering and Patterning the Conflict"
Write 2 Publish 2020
Great informative newsletter.
Thank you. I am glad you liked it.
Thank you for highlighting my story, Coming Home, in your July 22nd newsletter. You make many good points in the newsletter. For me, a story without conflict and uncertainty is boring. a character who has nothing to lose, or nothing to look forward to, is flat and uninteresting. Another important aspect about characters is that, like us humans, he/she should not be perfect. Flaws make for enigmatic characters.
Absolutely. I agree on all your points.
Thanks for the feedback.
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