Tuesday, October 9, 2012

That Character Did What???



Photo by Blueprint, Morguefile.com
I am well into reading this novel and enjoying it--really enjoying it. The main character happened to be this guy obsessed with being neat and fastidious. Very detail oriented with a hearty dislike of littering and sloppiness of any kind. Then, midway through the novel, the guy tosses aside half of a sandwich, paper wrapper, napkin and all, without any pang of guilt. Not even a passing thought. What? This threw me until a few paragraphs later, when I realized that the tossed sandwich served a distinct purpose—a plot purpose. Mr. Fastidious acted out of character in order to allow something else to happen in the plot. Hmm, kind of a Bozo no-no, wouldn’t you say?

Confession time: The writer in me does, at times, become tempted to have a character do something he or she would never do. Why? To set up an event I need in the plot. But as a reader, this device leaves me cold and disappointed. I want, at the very least, the character to recognize what he’s doing and have a reason for doing it. Otherwise, I stop believing in that character. The magic is gone; the fictional balloon is popped. Bozo puts on a disappointed face and wags his finger (which is never good).

Have you ever stumbled over a character that did something unbelievable in order to serve the plot? Did you throw the book away or shrug this off and read on?

Writers, have you ever been tempted to have a character do something that doesn’t work for his or her personality (and hope no one notices—especially Bozo)?



56 comments:

  1. I HATE when I come across that in a book! I've found it more often in fantasy stories where the characters can suddenly break the rules the world lives by. So annoying! I rarely pick up a 2nd book by that author.

    But I do understand the temptation! :)

    Hope you're doing well. I was thinking of you today. I gave Buck Fever to one of my reluctant readers who likes the outdoors and camping and hunting. Hope it hooks him!

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    1. Thank you, Jemi! If there is anything I can do to assist you with your reluctant reader, please let me know! I'd love to help in any way.

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  2. This is an excellent subject! In my current WIP, I was writing free hand and my character, well let's just say, she acted out of character. I was mad at her...lol. But...I left the scene in for later purposes and it worked. Great post, Cynthia!

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    1. Ha! Those characters can get away from us, Loree. There is always someone making me mad at him or her! : )

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  3. It's such a dreadful mistake to make! Destroys the ficive dream totally! Only if there's a really good reason for the 'out of character' event will it work.

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    1. I agree, Pat. Often, finding that really good reason is tricky, too.

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  4. That always pops my balloon, too. That said, I've done it myself unknowingly. And I'm very grateful I have such wonderful critique partners who jumped right on it and saved my tushie :)

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  5. Oh, that would drive me crazy if I'd read it. I want my characters (read or written) to be in character--and as Carol stated, I really appreciate my wonderful CPs who will tell me if I ever miss something.

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    1. Where would we be without those fabulous CPs? : ) Thanks, Laura!

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  6. That's what I look for in my other job- editing. And mark them out for authors to have a look.

    Thanks for this post.

    Nas

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    1. Ah, so you have a slightly different perspective. Thanks, Nas!

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  7. Unless a character is forced to do something out of character that is beyond his/her control, then those moments in a story can cause quite a hiccup.

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    1. Indeed, Bish. And that's how it feels--like a hiccup.

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  8. Donald Maass suggests to do this, but that confuses me for the reason you pointed out, Cynthia. Everyone will think the author screwed up.

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    1. Exactly, Stina. And I live by the advice of Donald Maass, so I get the confusion.

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  9. Yeah, I totally get why it bugs you. Of course, I also think that it can be done, but you need to either lay some foreshadowing of it or give some other reason for it.

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    1. Exactly so, Donna. Thanks for pointing this out.

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  10. Okay, confession time! When I was growing up and staying with my grandmother, we watched soap operas every afternoon. And what you're describing is my biggest beef with the genre. The writers would have a character do something that didn't "fit" because it served the plot, and then come up with some outrageous reason to justify it like multiple personality disorder!

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    1. LOL, Shannon! I think you just pinpointed why I'm not a fan of soap operas. : )

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  11. Yes, this can be tempting for the writer. But I hate it as a reader. It completely pulls me out of the story, stopping me cold. So I know I have to wrack my brain to either make the action believable at this moment or find another way to accomplish my purpose. Good mental exercise. :)

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    1. As with all things writing, right, Marcia? : )

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  12. As a reader, I am totally taken out of the plot, and have put a book down because of it. As a writer, I have been tempted to force something on an unassuming character, but have refrained. However, I've also done it ignorantly - as my critique partner has pointed out! Great post, Cynthia.

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    1. Thanks, Victoria. And I know how easy it can be to mistakenly force something on a character. Too easy.

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  13. Yeah, those plot contrivances are the first thing that will turn me off a story... but it's so easy to write them! ;)

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  14. Oh my heck, yes! I just set aside a book for this exact reason. And by "set aside" I mean I "threw it down with disgust." Because to me, the MC would NEVER EVER EVER do what he did. It made absolutely no sense, and it made me think the MC was an idiot. And I don't want to read about people like that.

    So yes! We have to be careful to have our characters serve our plot, but not to their ultimate demise.

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    1. Such a great comment, Elana. I've been known to throw a book down in disgust, too. When an MC truly acts out of character, with no justification, this can be maddening.

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  15. Nope, haven't tried that in my writing. Haven't come up with a reason yet for a character to do something way out of character. People read for escapism, but things do have to make good sense.

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  16. I'm impressed, Joy. And you are so right: Readers want escapism. Why ruin that for them?

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  17. Yes, that would irk me if I read that. I think I've TRIED to make a character do something against their personality--but they wouldn't let me! LOL It just felt "wrong" and I finally had to rewrite the scene. ;o)

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    1. It's amazing how often our gut feelings guide us, isn't it Carol? Hurray for those impulses. ; )

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  18. Hmm. I hope I haven't done that in my writing! And I can't say I recall reading anything recently that made me say, "Hey! He would never do that!"

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  19. Hey Cynthia! Glad to see you here!

    Oh man, I hate it when a character does something so--well, out of character! it just throws me off for sure. I try not to do this in my own writing.

    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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    1. Thanks, Nutschell! It's good to be here again.

      And, I it seems that lots of times we learn from what we read. Or, I think that I do. ; )

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  20. I've felt frustrated reading books that have characters do things I didn't expect without any authentic reasoning.

    When writing, I set up actions and internal thoughts. Still, I'll delete things that don't match the character.

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    1. "Authentic reasoning" is the perfect phrase to describe what needs to be there, I think.

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  21. I don't think I do that on purpose, but sometimes when I'm revising I'll realize I've had a character out of character and have to fix it.

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  22. Well, I'll admit that during revisions I've had to go back and fix things that seem a bit out of character. Maybe even, say, making a girl who isn't such a good student a bookworm to explain her use of seemingly out of character big words.

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  23. Great post. Even if I don't consciously notice something that a character does to serve the author instead of herself too much at the time, I do notice that it effects how I enjoy the book from then on out. Later, when I go back to analyze, I usually find it comes back to that. Thanks for sharing this!

    Martina

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  24. Oh, those moments when a character leaves their skin really take me straight out of a story. It lessens my investment in them.

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    1. I love "leaves their skin," Leslie. That's the perfect way to describe what happens!

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  25. When reading I shake my head... Tell my husband ... And yes feel like throwing the book.
    I don't really hVe the urge when writing because it really frustrates me when reading
    Xx

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    1. That's great that the less that stellar reading experiences, at least, inform your writing, Michelle.

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  26. Great post and insightful comments, too.

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    1. Thanks, Alison! And thanks for stopping by! hugs!

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  27. Just stopping by to say hello! *waves* hope you have a great weekend:)

    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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    1. Hello to you, too, Nutschell! Thanks for stopping by.

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  28. I have seen this happen and it's funny how something seemingly so small can really "ruin" a good read. This serves as a good reminder to be on guard from doing the same in my own writing. Thanks!

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    1. It really is amazing how such a detail can influence an otherwise good read. Thanks, Ruth.

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  29. Yes. But I get my hand slapped every time. We all do things that are out of character at times, but I guess editors don't like characters to.

    Glad to be back from a very restful vacation from blogging.

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    1. Good point and it's great to have you back, Lee!

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