Monday, August 1, 2011

Finding the Human

I liked the idea of having a series' post on Mondays, but since my story crafting is over, I'll have to think of a new thing to do. Meanwhile, here is a filler.

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When I first started writing, my characters were very flat and unnatural.  I quickly learned that they needed to be human, i.e. weaknesses etc.

However, with that came a stream of characters that share a common problem with (too many) characters in fiction I’ve seen.  A single flaw.

I made characters with good intentions and strong senses of justice.  They were pseudo invincible and quite frankly, close to perfect.  But I inserted a single flaw to make them human.  I inserted a little event into his past and there he was, now afraid of the dark.

Mood made a post where he (unrelatedly) used an example of Indiana Jones being afraid of snakes, and that (when regarded in isolation from the rest of the story) served as a perfect example.  Just to make him more human and less invincible.  Using it as an obstacle later on, when he is trapped with a thousand snakes causes me to overlook this.

Misha Gericke’s post about clich├ęs mentioned a jock that secretly plays piano.  Again, a fine example.  Using a little quirk to try and MAKE a character more human.

As with physical quirks (such as the twirling of hair when nervous), you can easily centre so much attention on the quirk/flaw that you define your character by it.

Humans are insanely complicated, so by simplifying them to a personality quirk, you’re essentially dehumanising them.

Every decision we make is a vast series of neurons firing in our brains.  We take in the information around us, compare it to the information we have already stored and then we choose.  Thus, every decision is a gateway to finding the human in your character.  Instead of relying on a fear of snakes, Indiana Jones is made human by the decisions he makes.  At one point, he chooses (after some coercion) to leave behind a treasure in order to get out alive.  It speaks a lot about who is, without relying on quirks.

I recently read Wilbur Smith’s River God, and the protagonist, Taita, is a genius of many measures.  He is a good person and loyal to his master and friends.  However, he is constantly lying and hiding the truth from those same people in order to help them or someone else.  He often runs from problems and avoids conflict.  All these things make him a remarkable person, but nonetheless human.

Humans are central in most stories.  Characters can’t be made human by flaws.  Bad decisions make characters human.  Quirks and flaws are only extras.

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