Thursday, June 24, 2010

Are Your Characters Acting Normal?

We have to remember that your characters, even if they are demons and angels, all have to have human characteristics for the reader to be able to connect with them. Along the same lines, their behavior has to fit with the type of character that you created. Too often though, I think writers get so caught up in their stories and their plots that they forget to have the characters behave in a way appropriate to what you set up. Along the same lines, there are times that your characters will say one thing and then in a page or two, contradict themselves and do something out of characters. When this happens, think of it like fingernails down a chalkboard. It is simply unnerving for the reader.

As you think about your characters, figure out what their normal behavior would be. This is where you need to really understand how they would act in every situation. In a time of crisis, would they panic? Would they revert to a leadership role? It all depends on what you established probably in the early sections of the book. I don't care if you want an alpa male in chapter 7, if you set him up as a beta male in the beginning, then he has to act like that.

Along the same lines, think of their profession, or even their social status. These characters will follow the guidelines established by these surroundings and they cannot act out of place. The same goes for you historical writers and when we deal with gender roles. You may want a Lara Croft character, but the odds are, in the Medieval England, this would likely not happen.

I have talked about this before, but a great example of this are those romantic suspense stories with a rapist or sex addict as the villain. If the heroine is dealing with a situation where she has been abused, or is being chased, the odds are she will not be checking out the detective or the guy in this situation. This is the furthest from her mind. Don't even get me started with the detective having a relationship with a victim or even a potential suspect. Do you want to say, blown case?

The point of all this is to really think about what your characters are saying and doing. Your plot cannot make them act in a way that is not natural. The dignified lord will not be having a fist fight in a Regency New Years Eve Ball. As much as the villain might deserve it, there are rules to be followed.

Your task today, review those lines of the characters. Normal or not?



  1. Hi Scott,
    I have used the conflicting background of my two characters to my advantage (I hope) in which my hero was abandoned by his showgirl mother. When he sees the heroine on the back of a mechanical bull- she's trying to win money to fix her car- he plans to kept his distance from her. There is no way he wants a woman who requires vodka in her orange juice. I think the differences also help show character growth. Do you agree? Thanks for the insightful blog.


  2. Great post, Scott... very timely for me too.

    I was struggling with one of my scenes the other day and just couldn't figure out what was wrong with it. I decided to walk away and come back to it once I'd had some time to mull. A couple of hours later it hit me. My hero was responding to the situation totally out of character.

    Thank you for those reminders about time and place in the world too. I need to keep that in mind for future scenes. The role of women throughout history needs to be considered.

    Cheers for that :)


  3. Scott, I understand what you're saying and I agree about character consistency--but fiction is often about exceptions to the norm.

  4. Theresa,

    That is an interesting question, but I would not see this as a conflict but as a misunderstanding. The solution is too easy. All he has to do is ask, or in this case not make a rash judgement from the first observation.


  5. Bernita,

    I do agree that there are some genres out there when we can have characters act outside of the boundaries of normal human nature, but for fiction such as romance, where we are dealing with real people in real relationships, that connection between the reader and the author is crucial. We cannot relate to people that are not showing emotions that fit with that circumstance.


  6. I have a case where I'm contrasting an AI character who acts as normal as possible with a handful of human characters. It's hard to balance the viewpoint of AI with humans, but as you've written, I have to be careful with making them consistent.

    Wonderful post!