Friday, August 9, 2013

Are Your Characters Acting The Way They Should?

Everything in your book needs to be in alignment. Plot elements have to work together. Time sequences can not be screwed up. Eye and hair color cannot change for your characters throughout the book (yes I have seen this happen). These are things that most writers take the time to look for during the editing process, however, it should not be the only thing writers should look for. Your characters can not be "out of character." In other words, the things they do, the things they say and the way they act have to match who they are.

I know this seems obvious, but it is really a common flaw I see in many submissions. Let me give you a couple of examples.

In many YA's that I read, these teens act and behave like they are 30.  On the reverse side of this, we see teens saying and doing things that sound more like 8 year old kids and not the 16 year old teens. There are two reasons for these errors. The first is that the author is thinking not like the character, but thinking like they normally do, as an adult. The other reason is that authors are simply not familiar with this age group. Maybe they haven't been around teens for a while to know what they sound and act like.

We can extend this to the adult fiction too. Business professionals should act and speak the role of business professionals. Pastors should act like the pastors we want them to be. The list goes on and on.

Historical authors have another issue to deal with. We have to remember that the characters are not living in the 21st Century. Vocabulary, social behaviors and attitudes all have to match the time. This is especially the case with gender roles.

Having your characters play their part also extends to their personality. If you tell me the person is amazingly organized, then we need to see them be this way.

As authors, it is important to stop every now and then and ask if your character would really do this? Is this how the character sounds or is this how you sound?

Just something to think about over the weekend.

1 comment:

  1. I think about this a lot. Characters need to have different personalities, different motivations and interests. I must confess I often think of people I know or have come in contact with or worked with to try to tease out differences and how they manifest themselves. My goal is to have the reader see the character as I do but to show, not tell. Then the difficulty becomes how to do this without sidetracking too much into incidents and vignettes designed to display character and personality but only relate peripherally to the plot.

    Although I recently ended up reading a mystery novel by the well known British author P.D. James (on a bookshelf at a B & B) and she would spend a page or two describing each character after they were introduced.