Sparked by Words

Posts tagged ‘character truths’

T is for True to Character

Why did bespectacled Clark Kent slip into a telephone booth, change his business suit to the caped Superman onesie, and then fly to rescue the damsel gripped in the clutches of a criminal megalomaniac? To his ordinary fellow journalists at the Daily Planet, mushy mouthed Kent couldn’t save a mouse from its shadow, but to us fans, Superman could save the world. His humble Earth parents imbued him with moral urgency, and otherworld Krypton filled his core and gave him the ability to fly. Superman always had the incentive and power to challenge evil.

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In your newest novel, a burning building might propel your character Bumble Butt to rush in to try to save the screaming kid trapped inside, but the guy wouldn’t otherwise put himself out to interfere with the kid’s mom making him eat mush for breakfast. Radical circumstances force radical behavior but rash change doesn’t come from nowhere. And it’s unbelievable in a story. The internal compass only changes direction because of a violent eclipse to the magnetism that otherwise points north. Maybe pseudo-science can explain it, maybe a real PhD doesn’t recognize the concept, but we readers must believe it’s possible.

Malcolm’s position as the safety engineer at commercial building sites marks him as a fussy stickler for correct head gear, accurate weight and structural measurements, and pre-tested physics standards applied to real life situations. An entire chapter was devoted to his obsessive work safety concerns in the book our writer’s critique group read for KM, one of our members. I love KM’s story, and I respect him as a person. However, when Malcolm allowed his twelve-year-old daughter to drive the car late at night down a busy highway, he acted out of character. It just wasn’t in his nature to act with such reckless disregard of law and safety, especially with his child. I asked KM if Malcolm had been affected by a drug that had impacted a few other characters in the story. KM said no, he’d thought about his own father letting him drive under similar circumstances.

I don’t know anything about KM’s dad, if the guy was an irresponsible fool, or a drunk who made bad decisions under the influence of alcohol, or was simply trying to gain favor with his kid in the middle of a nasty conflict with KM’s mom. My husband taught our underage sons to drive in the empty parking lot of a school, hubby in the passenger seat. My dad let my kid brother drive the truck on our rural property, dad in the passenger seat. A midge of danger in both cases, but no other vehicles and no one else was around in either instance. Whatever terrible lack of judgment KM’s dad exhibited, it didn’t align with rule-stickler Malcolm. One factual out of context real world incident doesn’t make for a fun jaunt in a story if the genetic material doesn’t mesh with the character’s behavior. Otherwise known as not being believable. Yes, story is story, and KM gets to write his as he chooses. I have no idea whether he’ll make adjustments based on my observations or if he’ll dump me and my crit in the trash can. I suspect I won’t be the only reader to find this scenario suspect if left as originally written.

The characters I write are birthed in my imagination, as are yours. Besides the partly formed personality you read in my pages is a fully dimensional individual residing in my notes. If Kate, star of my book Kate, starts to spin like Super Whirligig, it’s up to me to have presented her previously as having top-like interests in getting dizzy and steel pointed toes that can pierce anything. Otherwise you’re just not going to believe she can drill right down through the earth to find the lode of golden ore at the bottom of a pit.

Superman can fly, Kate can spin, but I’m not sure Malcolm thumbs his nose in the face of safety. He’s a safety engineer, for crying out loud. A safety engineer lives safety first, last, and always. Or prove me wrong, Super Writer.

 

Superhero image courtesy of Clip Art, public domain

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