Sunday, April 8, 2012

Write Club: Respect Characters

Hey y'all.  So I was critiquing somebody's writing online, and the thing I noticed about this particular work they wrote was that it was missing an integral part of all good stories: the love of characters.  The sample I read was a prologue, and it was quite obvious that the characters in it were mere tools to get on to the first chapter.  None of the characters were particularly interesting.  They were merely there to serve a purpose, and then they were gone.

This is not the way a character is to be treated.  A character is not merely a tool, but a little person living in the fictitious world that you made for them.  They are little organisms, based on yourself and people you know.  They are given life by your perceptions, and become more deep the better you perceive.

The trouble is, there are errors with people's perceptions.  Most of the problems with the above writer's sample was the fault of one such error.  He combined.

Specifically, he said that Odin, Zeus, and Jehovah are all the same.  You know, I might have expected as much out of a normal person, but it's shameful for a writer type to be so narrow. It's disrespectful to say such a thing, not only to God, but also to Odin and Zeus.  These three are completely different in their themes, in their behavior, and in their histories.  They've all done different things over time, and have referred to different people.  All the writer did by making that statement was brush over other people's faiths and histories, basically saying, "meh, they're all the same".

That's like saying Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates are all the same just because they're all Greek philosophers.  Definitely not the case.  These three men have all had different opinions, styles of learning and different paths.  Though the two met, Aristotle far outlived Plato.  How then can you call them the same?

Back to Odin and Zeus.  People like these guys.  Even though few believe in them now, people like having cool gods like them in their past mythologies, because Odin and Zeus are interesting as individuals.  They aren't the same as each other.  These are characters.  Not only characters, but other people's characters.  That's right.  Using them is like writing fanfiction: you have to honor the histories laid out by the authors of those characters or else your story is cheap.  I can't say that Mario, Sonic, and Mega Man are all the same, can I?  Neither can anyone call Odin and Deus the same.  All that does is prove that the writer in question hasn't done any research.

All I kept thinking about when considering this writer's sample was Tash, a character from The Last Battle.  Tash is a false god in the Narnian stories, but he was also interesting.  He was called "inexorible and irresistible" by the Calormenes that believed in him, and it turned out that they were all too right.  In the end, a four-armed, bird-like nightmare carried off a Calormene under his arm, leaving the reader to only wonder what would happen to that poor soul.  

You see, Tash is interesting for being himself.  In the story, come characters made the comment that Tash and Aslan are the same, but really the two are so different it's astounding.  But Tash doesn't have to be like Aslan to be interesting.  He just has to be his inexorible, creepy self.  The point is, even though Odin and Zeus are not God, they're interesting as they are.  It's ridiculous to reduce a perfectly good character to another name for somebody else.  

Neither did the writer research God.  Jehovah is astoundingly different from other gods, so much so that God is not only capitalized when referring to him, but he remains believed in today, while Odin and Zeus are just interesting characters with maybe some followers among wiccans (I've been told they believe in all gods, but I'm not sure about that).  One thing God did in the past was prevent people from making images of him.  The old gods wanted statues made for themselves, and just you have all sorts of idols across the world.  God didn't do that.  His ark of the covenant had two angels on it, and nothing in the middle.  At no point did the Jews ever make a sculpture of God.  Moreover, God was never like the others in behavior.  Reading the Bible gives one the sense that God is very much in control and has things planned out.  The other gods?  More or less humans with superpowers and rank.  They have flaws, passions, and don't know the future.

Furthermore, the old gods always demanded sacrifices.  God had some ceremonial sacrifice going on, but in the end he said, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." He cares a lot more about the heart of the individual than gaining anything from them.  He "owns the cattle on a thousand hills", the Bible says, so what does he need sacrifice or money for?  Sacrifice was a symbol of Jesus' future fate, and money is supposed to be for widows and orphans, like it says in the book of James.

Now, note that these principles also apply to characters of your own creation.  You should treat your characters with the respect that you need to treat other people's.  You don't make them do things out of character, you don't force them into situations they would never enter, and you don't combine them with other people -- unless you're writing some sort of sci-fi thing where mad scientists blend people together just for the fun of it.  Even still, that dual-personality thing will still behave in certain ways and not in others.  You have to realize and respect this.

My points:
1. Don't combine characters.
2. Don't reduce characters to mere names.
3. Let each character be enjoyed for who it is, even if it's a character your readers love to hate.
4. Only write people you know.
5. Stick to behavior characteristic of your character.

No comments:

Post a Comment