Character development thoughts….

This is edited down from today’s 750words.com
Today, while out walking and listening to the news (there’s a tension double story – flooding coming our way, but the environment agency is cutting funding on flood defences), I was thinking about about how little I pay attention to the world around me unless things like flooding or high winds, or, best of all, snow, makes me. And I wondered how much that would translate to characters.I mean, you’ve got these characters in some books with preternatural attention spans, that know everything going on around them and miss nothing. They’re as good as Sherlock Holmes – mystery solved, all we have to do is wait for some smug pronouncements and everyone has the answer.  It might take a bit to rattle through the beautiful mind to make sense, but you just know they’re going to do it.
But…ever wonder whether there’s a clueless character out there much like me? Who only sees stuff externally when forced to. Who has an internal world furnished with much more interesting things? And in which case, how in the world do these people ever make it through life without killing themselves? It’s a question that gets asked of me all the time – as in ‘how in the world do you not kill yourself? Didn’t you see that (truck/two trucks/hole/swinging fiery branch/falling tree, man with sword). And I generally answer, with a smile, that I don’t have a clue.

It’s the same way as I don’t understand the way that some people don’t see the stuff that’s going on around them until it’s too late. I mean, we actually play up to it in the media…the clueless wife whose hubby is having an affair (or vice versa). The spouse or other person who didn’t realise they were being poisoned/ripped off/placed in danger for one of a dozen reasons. And it’s true, some people just don’t get that this stuff is going on in the world around them. But, you don’t see a ‘good’ person that has that problem. Good characters don’t accidentally fall into the solution (unless you’re Chuck, but even then, there’s a lot of training going on in his head).
So, I wonder how much of my stuff can be used as characterisation? I mean really – I am not a good example for a decent character – though, I am scary, scary smart. But if I were the person in the story spotlight, I’d have given in by now. I’d have misjudged, miscalculated, chosen wrong. But my luck has gotten me out of a few really bad situations. I’ve been away from a place when there’s been a serious accident. I’ve been on the bus before or after somewhere that might have been in an accident. I was at a theme park the day before a serious break and some serious injuries on my favourite ride. Is that just *life* or luck?
And that’s something I’m not sure how to tackle as a writer. Do we write slightly better people as characters because it’s more compelling, or because we know that people would be bored to read about us if we were ‘normal’. Is it because we’re too flawed, even to be believable characters?
I think it’s because life is stranger than fiction – most of us live in our own soap opera (at the centre or on the edge of it – all of use have drama in our friends and family, as much as we’d like to avoid it), and that though we say ‘that’s unbelievable’ in a storyline, when it happens in real life (if it happens), all we see is ‘I need to get through this’/’how did he/she deal with it?’ We don’t see it as fiction, we see it as a horrible event that we need to accept.
A bitter-sweet one I saw yesterday was the Boston Marathon participants who, after being injured in the blast, discovered that the wife of the two was pregnant. Their gorgeous daughter arrived recently, and they said that knowing she was there and that she was a miracle in a way (because they’d been trying and hadn’t expected it) had helped them move on. And that’s the core and the root of really good fiction in certain genres. Unbelievable odds, and a happy ending.
What do you think?  IS life stranger than fiction?

1 Comment

  1. Bonnie

    Yes, truth is stranger than fiction–you can’t possibly imagine some things before they happen, but I do think that believability is as much how the story is told as whether it seems likely.

    Reply

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