Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Character question

Okay, I need examples here.

When do you know it's deep, textured characterization, and not inconsistent characterization?

Like a woman leader who has been, up to this time, all for freedom of speech, suddenly engages in censorship. What would make it inconsistent characterization, and what would make it deep?




c.e.lawson said...

Interesting question. I can't wait to see what others say.

I suppose an example of inconsistent characterization in your situation of freedom of speech and censorship could be if the censorship only serves the greater plot, but doesn't seem connected to her as a person.

It can deepen the characterization if, say, we find out that the specific thing she censors (or something closely related) has a deep, painful, personal history/connection with her. That would make me see a layer, perhaps empathize, certainly understand the motivation for her behavior.

Edittorrent said...

So if there was some immediate catalyst for her change, like her son gets in trouble and she is a newspaper editor and she suppresses the police notice in the paper about his arrest, it would be more deep characterization? Makes sense to me-- we see what motivates her to change, and it's CHANGE, not just being inconsistent?


Anonymous said...

Is this woman really "for freedom of speech" or is it a convenient "position"? There are after all, tons of people who claim they ardently support freedom of speech - until of course someone says something they don't like. It's sort of like the double standard of that "other" part of the 1st Amendment - religious freedom - people believe it protects "theirs" but the believer of something else is still wrong/has less rights.

Those sorts of contradictory "characterizations" exist everywhere in the human species. Hypocrisy is a flaw, but it certainly isn't rare...

Anonymous said...

I'm with anon 4:10. There's lots of room for hypocrisy, especially if the "freedom of speech" position is connected to one particular issue. Like: "You never read about X. It's censored. The administration doesn't want us to know. Freedom of speech is really an issue as you can see."

But when a different issue is concerned, or even when an opposing opinion is offered, she might think it's slander - and not covered by freedom of speech.

I think the more of a zealot this person is, the more I'd believe she'd be selective in her judgment.

Unknown said...

It comes to motivation. When a person does something out of character, they need to have proper motivation.

A woman all for freedom of speech, for example, may want to silence a man who is a wife beater if she's been abused in the past. A less extreme example: she may want to silence someone who reminds her of someone from her past she dislikes.

The key: having some sort of clear motivation.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

If it involves censorship about a subject that the woman has lost the fight against, abuse, rape, molestation, etc. Perhaps some kind of religious subject, where we find out that indeed, she is a woman of deep (but quiet) faith or at least ascribes some success in life to (religous mother that sacrificed everything for her).

There are a lot of really nasty people that fall back on that principal to spread their hate (BNP, KKK, neo-Nazis), and although I believe in free speech, I often wish someone would shut them up and shut them down.

Steve said...

Beth is dead on with motivation. I worked in the theater for many years; all acting is about finding a character's motivation, sometimes explicit, often subtextual or hidden.

The other requirement is presaging. To go back to theater: In one play I directed, a character fired a gun. We discovered that we needed three conditions so the audience would accept it. First, he had to have motivation, because the gun was "out of character." (The whole play was about his motivation.) Next, the audience had to know well before he pulled it that he was carrying it. Third, the audience had to see the gun in his hands for at least a few seconds before he fired it. If we didn't do the last two, the audience was so startled by the loud gunshot that they couldn't concentrate on the critical action following it; they were still trying to parse the shot.

Beth speaks to #1. For #2, you need to have placed hints that the character has the contradictory action within her. These hints will live in the reader's subconscious -- and will be obvious when the reader thumbs back through the book. For #3, she can't just censor; there have to be a few sentences immediately before (or immediately after -- time is more fluid in a novel than on stage) that keep it from feeling that the novelist has set up the reader simply for shock effect.

Riley Murphy said...

I would probably go one step further. Say, with the newspaper editor example. I would have her make a pivotal decision (concerning someone she knows of - who is possibly well respected in the community) that is involved in a situation that directly connects her and effects her decision making process that is related to the convictions she has in terms of the right to ‘freedom of speech’. I would allow her to hold on to those beliefs but see the breakdown play out - at arms length, so to speak, so that she is free to explore how she feels about her decision (as in: was holding true to her beliefs and moving forward with them in this case, worth it in the end?) Cause, I somehow find it hard - when a character is too emotionally close to the immediate catalyst which causes the ultimate change, to believe it.

Again, in the newspaper editor’s example, if this woman was a stickler for putting everything out there (as in full disclosure) - I would need to see her struggle with more than just how she was going to try and protect her son from her long held convictions. After all, how many other parents in this town/city/country had been left to suffer from the published news of ‘their son’s’ arrest? I mean, you’d have to go some to get me to understand why she chooses to do this ‘suppression’ for him and not the fifty other ‘nice’ kids that came before.

No, for me it’s all about layers. Emotional change happens over a period of time, through different processes (surely, her son’s situation wouldn’t be the first time she felt at odds with her convictions? She’d be pretty dull if she always thought she was right, right?) Now, if we were talking about an epiphany? By all means, have her suppress her son’s arrest report because, wow! She never realized before walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, how publishing a young kid’s arrest report is going to effect that child’s family, future and reputation...until it directly effected hers. This last option will save her from being ‘dull’ but it does leave her in jeopardy of truly being ‘dull-witted.’

So, deep, textured characterization, and not inconsistent characterization for me, means layers. At least one or two that justify the motivations and bring a logical and consistent change to the character - and not to make too much of an issue out of it but, I usually like to see everything (but the inciting incident) occur at an ‘arms length’ because personally I think we can process a situation better without a deep emotional attachment getting in the way of our common sense working through it.

Hey, that’s just me...the gal who wasn’t to be blogging until she got all her work done this week. Man, Alicia - you make it hard to silently lurk....;). CRAP!

Anonymous said...

I find that this is a MAJOR problem in some books I read. The heroin doesn't go through enough situational examples to make her decisions believable, thus she comes off as inconsistent. The word textured highlights that more than one thing is needed when building her case for the motivation behind the action. I'm in agreement that motivation is the key.

Robin Lemke said...

Why does she suddenly support censorship? It has to be for a reason that is more important to her than freedom of speech. For instance, I love freedom of speech. Nobody should ban Judy Blume. But, kids' safety is more important to me than their right to read. So, when a guy in our area put up a web site with pictures of kids at parks telling you when the kids were there and how best to snatch them - freedom of speech goes out the window for me.

Another example from the Gilmore Girls. It was a show about a mom and daughter who were really close. In the pilot, the daughter flips out on the mom, they're fighting, it seems inconsistent - till we find out there's a boy at the heart of it. Well, a 16 year old will do a lot for a boy.

Several seasons later they fight and the mom says "well, if she doesn't want to talk, oh well" and doesn't pursue her. There wasn't really a reason and it didn't make any sense. It was a bad, bad season.

So, you just need to layer the priorities - what would make someone do something seemingly out of character.

Adrian McCarthy said...

Another reason for a change of position would be the belief that the circumstances required a change. Free speech may be fine during peacetime, but during war, you'd better not contradict the propaganda.

You see a lot of this from the president in Battlestar Galactic. At the outset, she's a progressive, but--over the course of the series--she authorizes torture, summary executions, censorship, and a ban on abortion. Although she believes in democracy, she even rigs an election. These contradictions between her beliefs and her actions are believable because we see that she sees the game has changed. At first it was about preserving civilization, but it became struggle for the actual survival of the human race--civilized or not.

Anonymous said...

Or if you were writing comedy, the inconsistency can make a character wonderfully ironic. I'm thinking of Winifred, the suffragette mother in Mary Poppins. She sings an entire song about being a bold woman, "no longer the mild and meek subservient we. We're fighting for our rights militantly!" And then she's quickly hiding her banners and at the beck and call of her husband and spouting off about how clever he is and how incapable she is. It's delightful.

em said...

I'm with Beth and Murphy on this one. Motivation backed by some layers of a prior journey or experience. I know that Anon mentioned that this was a Major problem with published stories but I'd like to know from Alicia or Theresa if lack of character consistance or charactization is a problem they see a lot with their submissions?

c.e.lawson said...

So if there was some immediate catalyst for her change, like her son gets in trouble and she is a newspaper editor and she suppresses the police notice in the paper about his arrest, it would be more deep characterization? Makes sense to me-- we see what motivates her to change, and it's CHANGE, not just being inconsistent?No, I don't think it's change or being inconsistent. It's more that we find out a deeper layer of character - that her loyalty to her family is more important than her loyalty to the ideal of freedom of speech. Maybe there have been hints to her degree of family loyalty previously, but now her order of priorities has been revealed more fully. We see that she's able to sacrifice her integrity in one sense in order to protect what she sees is a greater good. That's not necessarily inconsistent, just more complex. Ack, I hope that makes sense! :)

Unknown said...

c.e. Lawson says:
Sacrific her integrity for the greater good.

Can she do this and make the reader understand and sympathize without first having gone through as Murph says: a process? and once she does wouldn't this change her especially after she has made such a sacrific?

Adrian McCarthy says:

These contradictions between her beliefs and her actions are believable because we see that she sees the game has changed.

That's an interesting point. Instead of sacrificing her integrity the heroine is choosing to put it aside and concentrate on the greater good.

Julie Harrington said...

I think motivation is key. A character can take a stance, like the Freedom of Speech stance, and if you give her the proper motivation and reason for changing her opinion on that stance, I think you could get away with it. I'm all for Free Speech, but I think the greatest harm can be done when people wrap themselves in it. I'm reminded of the Olympic Park Bomber. The poor security guard got torn to ribbons in the press, in the public eye, slandered and maligned and his life ruined all in (the press even followed the guy to the grocery store) the name of "free speech" and "freedom of the press" and -- after it was all said and done and the poor man's life was utterly destroyed? Ooops.

I would think if something like THAT happened and the heroine was involved and just saw it as a feeding frenzy destroying an innocent person, her views on Justice, on human decency, Presumed Innocent and just the revulsion to what humans will do to humans would kick in, far outweighing the "free speech" thing.