What makes a strong character?

Posted: May 19, 2013 by kkline922 in Kody's Words
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Have you ever immersed yourself in a story, you like a character, and then you toss the book across the room with an exasperated sigh? Simply because a character did something they would never do. And I ask you this: is it against the character’s grain given the events of their fictional creation, or is it from you imprinting your own expectations, your own personality, and your own wants upon the character?

In our society, people often confuse strength with power. Strength comes from right action, doing what is right given what you think and say. Power comes from doing whatever you dare regardless of your beliefs. These are the people who’s actions are always questioned, usually frowned upon, and easily turn villain. I think of Socrates in example. He was given the chance to leave. No one wanted his death, they just wanted him to get out of town and stop teaching. Power, for him, would have been leaving and continuing to spread his knowledge. Yet, he understood, if he left, it would betray every word he had ever spoken. So, he drank Hemlock. That is strength.

Now, this dialogue I share with you stemmed from a discussion I held with a colleague. While reading a scene from the novel I’m still rewriting (will it ever see light?) she didn’t agree with the reaction of a character.

Background–the protagonist is a boy who was raised solely by his mother, and within my world, they share a deep bond. For the first time in their lives, they are separated when the boy starts training as a knight. The mother fears what his life will become, and a few years later, she receives the news her son is on the verge of death. Upon hearing these words, the mother has a strong visceral reaction. Her skin pales and she nearly faints. This is the fear she’s held in her heart all her life.

My colleague felt this wan’t a proper reaction since a strong, female character wouldn’t display weakness. And I had to think upon this for some time.

When I write a character, I construct them from within. Meaning, I think of their life. How they grew up, what they believe, how they act, etc. And wether they are male or female, their actions will always be based on the culmination of their life events.

For some reason, I’ve been speaking about expectations a lot this week, but if you have not gathered it, I don’t have them. Life cannot be viewed for what it is with them, and will only be seen for what you desire it to be. It is the same with people. Humans are capable of strength, weakeness, vulnerability, tears, hate, or any other trait you can ponder. These are not attributes limited to either sex, despite what our society would have you believe.

Now, coming back to my colleague’s comment, I decided the mother’s reaction was proper given her life. I will not betray her charcter to present the antithesis of perceived notions of society. I will not hand her power. She instead has strength, for two reasons: it is a proper action given what she thinks and says, and more important, I believe there is no shame in expressing emotion.

Emotion is what makes us human. It is what makes life worth living, and why should we limit our emotions because someone in power says we shouldn’t feel something? In the short of it, the reason for this post, don’t allow others to shape your ideas of how people should act. Anyone is capable of anything regardless of what is between their legs.

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Comments
  1. Matthew Ridenour says:

    Always important to allow characters to drive the story instead of the other way around.

  2. Very interesting discussion. Just today I felt frustrated with a character who seems so smart, but just did something that (I think) was really dumb. However, the more I think about, what seemed to me like the obvious solution (an opportunity to manipulate the villain) may be outside this character’s (somewhat extreme) honor code. It’s a good new angle to look at it from. And I agree it’s important in our writing to make sure we know WHY a particular character is acting as they are–and not just because it’s what the plot needs.

  3. kkline922 says:

    Appreciation for your comments ; )

  4. jennyleelee says:

    Awesome analogy of human character; people all have emotions, but what matters is how we choose to go through those emotions–I love how you depicted this by using the differences between strength and power.

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