I recently read a wonderful post from Lia Keyes about Character Self Image, which stuck with me. Then, real life added to the mix.
I met up with a friend the other day and we ended up having a very heated debate over a particularly controversial topic (which I very much enjoyed!). The subject in question was the rights of murderers and rapists to have a good life, provided by tax payers, and for their right to be rehabilitated rather than imprisoned. His view was that it was a human right for a criminal to be cared for (even if that was for the rest of his life and rehabilitation was out of the question/doomed to fail). My view: What about the victim's human rights? Also: is it my burden to care for a person who hurts others?
That's not what this blog is about, however (as enjoyable as that debate can be). These kinds of debates are the sort we keep well away from the dinner table (along with religion and politics), but which can inject your writing with a lot of depth.
Because both the debate, and Lia's post, got me thinking about motivation and self image in characterization.
Why was my friend so concerned for the welfare of a criminal and seemingly so indifferent to the plight of their victims? (One can argue that even criminals are victims and/or unwell, but I'm not going to get into that kind of circular debate here.) Why was he so adamant about helping those who only wish to take from others and so adamant about it being the responsibility of people like me (and you) to support them and "cure" them, when all their victims got were pain and suffering? On other words, why was he determined to make it my responsibility?
It got me to thinking about the motivations of my characters and of their beliefs. Was my friend socialized into believing one particular thing—one particular view? Were his own experiences ones which, necessarily, allowed him to be more sympathetic to the aggressive party? Did it stem from personal experience I knew nothing of? Was it because he is a man and I, a woman? Where did all of the assumptions he held come from?
His beliefs allowed him to argue (and act) on a view that I myself find hard to understand, agree with, or digest. But that's okay, because people are different and people have unique and personal views that are shaped by the experiences they've had in their lives. We, as writers, want this kind of complexity.
Image sourced from: Geek and Poke
Have a think about your characters. Why do they do the things they do? What do they believe about themselves? How do they view the world? Do your characters then act in consequence?
Does your character have poor self esteem? Why? Does this belief run through your narrative in the way they react/speak/behave? In what drives them?
How do you ensure that your characters have enough depth to justify their actions? Do you explore their backstory in your mind? Do secondary characters find the views of your protagonist hard to swallow or downright vulgar? How do they react? Does it cause a conflict? Is their world view explained later on? What assumptions do they make and how does it affect the whole narrative?
In other words: Are you making use of the complexity within your own life to fuel the actions and thoughts of your MCs and supporting cast?
I hope so! Because it certainly adds spice to life, and to novels.
Big <3s to everyone!