Theme—Day 32

I agree with Dee Stewart’s comment to the Theme—Day 31 post: characters should not be too-good-to-be-true. In mentioning the blurred lines of contemporary fiction, I did not mean to give the impression that I believe characters need to appear as pure evil or pure good, though I think fantasy characters can border on those extremes.

I do think it is OK to portray godly Christians, however—people who want to do the right thing because of their relationship with Jesus Christ.

For some reason, it seems a lot of stories, in order to be realistic, have painted the worst case elements on every character. That, to me, is just as unrealistic as the opposite.

Certainly characters need flaws because that is part of our sin nature. Rather than depicting perfect characters, the right and wrong issue in fiction comes from the main character facing moral choices and dilemmas. More from Maass:

Take a look at your [book’s] climactic moment. Is it a moment of outward change? A plot turning point? It is probably also an inward turning point. The time when things are darkest and most dire is also the time when a character’s fortitude and inner convictions are most sorely tested …

What I am arguing for here is a story that follows both inner and outer tracks … What makes a character intriguing is conflicting sides. A corollary principle is that a character’a beliefs also follow a path of development …Weaving an inner struggle into the fabric of the outer events of the narrative magnifies a novel’s final impact, particularly if the inner and the outer conflicts can reach a simultaneous climax. Adding a moral dimension will make it that much stronger. (Emphasis added)

Maass gives an example as part of an exercise showing how a character’s decisions can be deepened by adding a moral dimension. If the character must decide between going on or giving up, then add things like giving up will be rewarded. Or on the other side, going on will require sacrifice of something of one’s self, maybe something that has been hard won and of high importance. Now the decision has more powerful implications.

In addition, I say, throw in his belief system—whatever you have portrayed as the passionate concern this character has. Can he honor his beliefs and still go the easy, rewarded way or does he have to sacrifice something to follow what he holds to passionately—without recognition perhaps.

Test the character to see if he will make the moral choice, but don’t make him wishy-washy. OK, now we’re entering into some shifting sand.

The character needs to develop, which means he won’t always have a correct handle on things. Portraying moral development without making the character appear morally wishy-washy demands some real attention.

Published in: on May 8, 2006 at 12:13 pm  Comments Off on Theme—Day 32  
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