Monday, January 09, 2012
Real People Are Better than Characters
Cute dog isn't it?
I love dogs- we have five of them. But none of them ride in fire engine trucks and look that clean. They fight. They trash the house if we're gone too long. They don't get along with the cats. You get the picture.
Fact is, he little guy in the picture is a fake. Just like a lot of characters.
Stereotypes are okay as a kind of short-hand for throw-away characters. They're easy to write and and easy to source. You can almost buy them online. The evil business person. The average person fighting against the system. Or my all-time favorite. The "elements re-assembled" character.
The stereotyped character draws from a list of prearranged character attributes which you can actually find in the various books that Writers Digest sells. The idea is that it's hard work to create an original character. A writer would actually have to think and everything. And you might fail. The emotional trauma of failure might be painful. The stereotyped character relieves you of that burden.
The "elements-assembled" character is a Mix-Match creation. To hide the fact that our characters are two-dimensional stereotypes, we take the character "parts" and arrange them in unconventional ways.
With luck, the patchwork characters will be considered original. This applies to character mannerisms as well. For example, instead of having a tobacco-chewing man (ugh) we write a tobacco-chewing woman (ugh) character. Isn't that creative? Isn't that original?
Or, instead of having a powerful, evil businessman, we create a powerful, evil businesswoman.
Who knew that creativity was so easy?! Switch gender roles or switch personal habits and we instantly have an original character!
On the other hand, this might explain why more readers are reading less. They know that writers don't actually study real people anymore, they study fictional characters. They base their law enforcement characters on characters they've seen on CSI. Or Law and Order. Or.... you get the point.
After all, "Avatar" made millions and millions of dollars for its creators, and there isn't one character in the entire movie that's not a stereotype or recycled character. So why should a writer study real people? Why try to really analyze the human condition and potential to create characters that are more compelling?
Think of it this way- movie studios and TV production groups have an awful lot more to invest in their stories. It's your mind against their computer animated graphics and music scores. Ever notice how much they spend on music scores for movies? It's because the music creates most of the mood, not the script. Their writers can't pull it off without music and sound effects.
Fiction writers don't have a choice. We actually have to make it happen in the reader's mind without music, without special effects, and without actors. Movie studios have hundreds of millions of dollars invested. Fiction writers, if we're lucky, have a decent laptop.
So we have to work a lot harder to make our readers really believe that our characters are real. We might actually have to pay attention to real people to learn how to make believable characters.
Or we could keep on turning out two dimensional characters like the dog in the picture.