Hello all, and very sincere apologies for not having written in a coon’s age. (This week has driven me nearly to the point of insanity; I praise God that I’m finally caught up after that terrible torrent. FINALLY.)
Yes, I just used that ancient expression; pardon me, if you’d please.
Tonight I’m going to talk a bit about one of my personal favorite parts of storytelling: Bringing people, characters, aliens, animals, or whatever your protagonist(s) is/are to life. Breathing air into their lungs is really as simple as having your pen touched to the page, the fingers, to the keyboard. But really, it’s so much more than than.
I mentioned in a previous article (or two) that God wants us to be sub-creators, wants to share the joy of creating, in a sense, like He has. After all, we are all characters in His Grand Story; God took time, care, and serious talent to create our personalities, likes and dislikes, thoughts, fears, backstories, families, influences, and so forth. To a certain extent, we also have an IMITATION of that power: The Odyssey, Pride and Prejudice, The Hunger Games, and To Kill a Mockingbird are all prime examples, and help us to define what, exactly, goes into making a good character.
(But seriously, don’t. ^ Or, if you do, don’t make them into EXACT copies; let the characters take off and do their own thing– or else you’ll be fretting the whole time about, “Well, if what’s-his-face was faced with THIS situation, he MIGHT do…” instead of just letting your character roll with it. Just allow your characters some breathing room, even if they’re based on someone, just a TINY bit.)
The characters in these books are solid, realistic. You can easily relate at least one, if not more than one, of the protagonists. They have admirable, or at least understandable goals– which are usually made or contributed to by their backstory. For instance, Elizabeth Bennett in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has a vague dream of being together with someone ideally suited to her disposition and situation, likely an ideal subconsciously planted in her by Mrs. Bennett, but her primary objective is her sisters’ happiness and welfare– particularly those of Jane and Lydia. She is depicted to be a “family girl,” and is tight-knit with her kin. It is this familial love that leads her to confront Darcy in rage over disrupting Jane’s happiness and tearing her sister’s heart to shreds; ironically, it is the same love she has for Lydia that brings her close to Darcy again, which she, in moment of desperation, confides that Lydia has foolishly eloped with a devious charlatan of a soldier, Mr. Wickham. Her character and background all lend tremendously to the story’s detail and plot.
On the other hand, what if, perhance, we DON’T want our readers to empathize with certain characters? Some of you may be looking at me like I’m nuts; hear me out. The reason, dear readers, that certain people go ape for certain characters, even VILLAINS (looking at you, Mr. Draco Malfoy and the Darkling) is because of both their backstory and their motives. It is perfectly fine to give your characters, even villains, GOALS. Goals are not motives; motives are why we as human beings do things. I know, it’s hard, but the moment you give the subtlest motive (especially if it’s sympathetic– Malfoy’s was family pressure, the Darkling’s was both hunger for power and loneliness.) people are going to go nuts. Don’t believe me? Just ask Leigh Bardugo, who had initially intended to create the Darkling as a “villain you couldn’t dismiss,” and “dangerous because he evokes sympathy,”– not realizing that such sympathy could, in fact, lead to readers defending the character to the point of saying that his murdering and torturing innocents was fine, because he did it for “honorable reasons,” (aka, establishing his official dictatorship.). You might not want that, so, if that’s the case, either erase the motives and backstory, or at least, make the motives incredibly muddy (as in Iago’s case, in Othello. ).
Me, I want what Ms. Bardugo wants– to go hard on my readers, villain-wise. Only, instead of making it hard for the readers to HATE the villain, I’m making it difficult for them to LOVE the villain… all while still maintaining that wonderful complexity of personality and charm, yet erasing motives and backstory… It’s definitely a fun challenge.(And THAT is where the motiveless maligniter meets the Machiavellian, my friends.) But it will all be worth it in the end, if I can cure the “Malfoy Syndrome,” in more than one reader in regards to said anonymous character.