By: Jami Gold
Within the writing community, there are just as many articles (if not more) about developing great characters as there are about creating interesting plots. We see blog posts debating how likable a character needs to be to interest a reader, other posts sharing techniques for evoking reader empathy, and still other posts instructing us on methods for showing a character’s emotional arc, etc., etc.
We know as readers that even the best-plotted book will suffer if the protagonist isn’t at least compelling. So as writers, we do everything we can to make readers invested in our characters in some way.
An invested reader is a happy reader, right?
Well, maybe not. Let’s take a look at the other side of character development.
The Danger of Out-of-Character Behavior
A couple of months ago, I wrote about how our genre promises certain elements to readers. And if our genre alone creates expectations in readers, it’s a safe bet that our characters do as well.
As we develop our characters, we establish expectations in the minds of our readers for how that character will act and react in the future. Readers sense their intelligence, what they value or fear, their moral code, etc.
Those expectations are important to understand because insults like “Too Stupid To Live” are more likely when our characterization is broken. We don’t usually see that insult flung at characters who do stupid things in character.
Instead, protests are more likely when a character acts in a stupid way that’s out of character. Readers know they’re acting that way simply because the author needed them to, and a puppet isn’t a full-fledged character worthy of respect.
As readers, we hate to be disappointed by characters, to have our faith in them destroyed. When we think they can and should do better, we can feel betrayed.
That’s not to say characters can’t act in ways that might seem out of character. However, just as in real life, we’re more likely to understand—and maybe even forgive—if we know the reasons for the out-of-character behavior.
Even if we disagree with a character’s choices, we can accept their decisions if we understand their motivations. But if motivation is lacking, the entire plot point feels forced, and readers will rightly blame the writer.
Example: The Comic Version of Captain America
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If you missed my latest writing and marketing tweets, here they are again:
- Character Development Is a Two-Edged Sword | Jami Gold, Paranormal Author http://ow.ly/iAnH301vZON
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- ‘Gone Girl’ and the Rise of Crime Novels by Women - The Atlantic http://ow.ly/Vkca301vZZi
- Masterplots Theater: P is for Pursuit » WriteOnSisters.com http://ow.ly/4C6m301w022
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- Plumb the EmotionaHl Depth of Your Setting http://ow.ly/2g9z301w07R
- Go Teen Writers: Your Characters Should Be Afraid, Very Afraid http://ow.ly/kQ4D301w0fT
- Let's Schmooze - Doug Eboch on Screenwriting: Using Minor Characters to Explore Theme http://ow.ly/8Tqk301w0jg
- A Pre-Writing Checklist » WriteOnSisters.com http://ow.ly/ZWNw301w0lc
- Go Teen Writers: #WeWriteBooks, Post 14: Where To Start http://ow.ly/hSAR301w0rq
- Bates Motel; Building Suspense When You Already Know The Ending – Devlin Blake http://ow.ly/EsdE301w0vB
- 37 Questions to Ask Your Character http://ow.ly/44ko301w0zI
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- Learn how your own creativity is a trap, and the system for getting unstuck during free training on May 25, 2016. http://ow.ly/pfq0301w0Ni
- Writing Tips: How To Banish Writer's Block With K.M.Weiland | The Creative Penn http://ow.ly/dn2M301w0VR