So I thought it might be talk about creating fictional characters as we head into the weekend. On that note, when writing about folks I prefer boiling unpredictability into characters, or a little bit of crazy.
When reading or watching stories, I prefer main characters who screw up, make bad decisions, flip flop, and do other things that generally drive people a bit crazy. They are human, and we can identify with or simply doubt them.
Developing a character or screenplay in a novel requires tension and conflict. And there is no greater conflict than the one that lies within. We think we know how folks will respond, but then they do things contrary to expectations. This is true character development to me, reflecting what we experience in reality.
Tensions exists because we lack certainty about how protagonists will act. It’s the quintessential trust issue. Perhaps that is more a reflection of my own expereinces with people.
Invariably, man or woman, people will always let you down at some moment. This is the human condition. But principles never do, and that creates tension between doing right and wrong.
Favorite Crazy Characters
This crazy factor is why Cervantes’ Don Quixote is perhaps the most brilliant of early novels. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are maddeningly nuts (chase that windmill!). They don’t make characters like that anymore!
In the modern tough guy vein, Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs evolves and matures over time. Morgan’s work created a series that I could not put down, and desperately hoped would continue. Like so many characters though he does seem to fit into a stereotype, the anti-hero tough guy that survives and eventually conquers, albeit in a never-clean fashion. You kind of always know how Kovacs is going to respond to things.
In Lord of the Rings, Frodo is a sweet young man who faces terrible challenges. His character is pretty straight forward, and in that oh so English way, he continues because he must. Frodo does succeed, but the journey bludgeons him, killing his spirit. In the end as he sails off to Valinor in an effort to find peace.
While I loved Kovacs and Frodo, I’m not sure they’re really human. Because both protagonists are heroes, they rise above the normal foibles we all seem to muddle through.
A better tough guy is the comic character Batman, who is just nuts, as all of us familiar with the movies know. The underlying gritty subversiveness of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character reminds me of the duality of ideal versus humanity.
This same character tension was played out subtly and brilliantly in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Through narrator Nathan Zuckerman’s recreation of the Swede we saw how really crazy and subversive people are regardless of their outward presentation.
Exodus features an anti-hero character, Jason. I actually named him after Jason of the Argonauts, because that Jason seemed too perfect to me. I thought a little more perspective on a young “hero” was needed. Several of the characters are named after Greek legends, an intentional ode and post modern riff on epic tales.
In Jason’s case, the fundamentalist threat alluded to in the novel’s teaser text provides external conflict, which in turn forces his internal crisis by thrusting a great responsibility on his shoulders. This is a classic character development technique.
Most novels make you wonder how the hero will succeed. Me, I wonder if Jason can handle it or if he’ll go nuts. His process is very much what I think happens in real life as opposed to the archetype of yeah, we know he’s going to make it, it’s just a question of how and when.
What do you like about your favorite characters?
[Tweet “I like a little crazy in my fictional characters. How about you?”]