Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lazy, Good-for-Nothing People


Hi,

Some of you may have noticed I didn't post an article in January. I intended to, but must have forgotten. I did write one, honest! Here it is:



I read an article recently about how a lot of the problems authors have with characters is them not being realistic enough. A lot of authors would put the blame on the dialect or certain reactions and will add to the story to fix the issue. However, in many cases adding will make things worse, perhaps to the point of the piece being abandoned.

The truth is when writing about people you need to remember a key fact about human nature:  Humans will do as little as possible to achieve a desired result.

Put another way if your character, Bob let’s say, has to stop the bad guy, let’s call him Joe, from going to a party he is unlikely to plan meticulously for days with no sleep. What is more likely is that he’ll just go up to Joe and do either of the following:

1.     “Hey, Joe,” Bob called.
“Yes?” Joe replied.“Don’t go to the party next Saturday.”“Why?” 
“Nobody wants you there.” 
“Oh, that’s a shame; I was really looking forward to it.” 

2.    “Hey, Joe,” Bob called. 
“Yes?” Joe replied.“The party’s been cancelled, sorry.” 
“Oh, that’s a shame; I was really looking forward to it.”

OK, so perhaps they were over-simplified, but the point still stands. Bob is not going to try to manipulate Joe with hypnosis, or go to the effort of getting a gun and shooting him.

If you want your character to do something more complex you can either make a more complicated scenario, maybe Bob wants to go instead of Joe and has to persuade him to give his ticket over; or make the other character respond unexpectedly:

“Hey, Joe,” Bob called. 
“Yes?” Joe replied.“The party’s been cancelled, sorry.” 
“No it’s not. I’ve spoken to the host just now; she’s asked me to bring a friend.” 
“Ah!” 
“Why don’t you want me to go?” Joe thought and suddenly said, “You fancy Claire, you know I like her.”
As you can see that introduces another element, lust and fancy, both human characteristics. What would be unrealistic is this scenario:
“Hey, Joe,” Bob called. 
“Yes?” Joe replied.“The party’s been cancelled, sorry.” 
“No it’s not. I’ve spoken to the host just now; she’s asked me to bring a friend.” 
“Ah!” 
“Why don’t you want me to go?” Joe thought and suddenly said, “You fancy Claire, you know I like her.” Joe got out a gun he had been carrying around for moments like this and shot Bob stone dead in broad daylight. Bob, however was wearing a bullet proof vest, he had planned for this unexpected turn of events. A helicopter landed across the street and a law enforcement squad arrested Joe.
At first glance an author may think that’s fantastic it’s got a love affair, guns, helicopters, the lot. But anything more than a glance will tell the reader that the plot is unrealistic. The only case something like that would work is if you had a character like Sherlock Holmes who’s main character trait is connecting more dots than everyone else and working out the consequences to his actions ahead of time. The reason Holmes works as a character is because those traits are the story. Holmes is not an old gut off the streets – he is a detective who is great at what he does.

But why does Holmes work as a character? Firstly, people like to fantasise that they are like him, but most importantly is that Holmes has flaws. His abilities do mean he isn’t as adept at social encounters unless he wants information. It enflames his ego and causes him to seem like a popinjay a lot of the time.

What does that have to do with the main rule I’ve covered in this article? Well, every rule has its exceptions and that is one example.

Thanks
Matt B

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