Saturday, May 28, 2011

Question of Character

To paraphrase something I read recently: “A full-time writer gets seven day weekends every week. They also have to work weekends, no exceptions.”

I never stop writing, because I can’t help it. I put down at least 10 pages a day, of something. It’s a habit I’ve gotten into over the last few years. It has served me well, and I couldn’t stop now, even if I wanted to.

I read more than I write, but lately I’ve been exploring different genres that I otherwise wouldn’t normally pick up. My reading has also ranged from “New/Self-Published/Indie Authors” to ‘Professional/Big Publishing House/Big Name”. I’ve noticed something in my recent reading that I think is worth discussing, only because I keep seeing it, and I’d like to hear what others think about it.

My favorite books have always been the ones with the most vivid characters; the real ones. They have depth, emotions, desires, and flaws. There are reasons for what they do, and they are capable of acting outside their normal motivations – with internal consequences for those actions.

I’ve got a problem with “Paladins”, and “Bad guys”, who seem to act only on what they are not who they are. A good guy, riding a white horse, who is good because he’s good, and always does the right thing because it’s right? Boring. A bad guy, riding a dark horse, who is bad because he’s bad, and always does the most evil thing because it’s evil? Equally boring.

People, humans and otherwise (depending on the genre and story), should all have personalities they reflect all the different shades between black and white. Selfishness can lead to “evil” actions, but so can fear, so can a desire to protect someone or something outside themselves. “Good” can be only skin deep, due to a need to be praised (selfishness), or to hide a deeper flaw or emotional wrong buried in the character.

In the end I guess, this is just a rant about surface writing. I may sound like a snob but I want to read characters that are each as deep as, or deeper, than then the plots they are involved in. Is that too much to ask for?


  1. If a character doesn't have real motivations, real desires, real needs and real flaws, it completely inhibits the suspension of disbelief necessary to properly enjoy a work of fiction. When characters lack...well, character, you run the risk of derailing an entire story because you couldn't think past two-dimensional archetypes and create a living, breathing, vibrant idea on a page that struggles to get its point across. In short, characters without character doom the works they inhabit unless their lack of character is made the express focal point of the story to highlight some obscure moral.

  2. "characters without character doom the works they inhabit"

    Well said!

  3. I can't imagine how boring it would be to write a book with two-dimensional characters. How would you even force your way to the end? WHY would you?

    Hello, btw. Found you via Tymothy Longoria on Twitter.

  4. Since you're a Vonnegutian, thought you might be interested in my blog: "Writing Kurt Vonnegut" at

    Charles J. Shields
    And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, a Life (Holt, November)