Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Being Consistent

By Darvell Hunt

I love it during a critiquing session when someone tells me something like, “Oh, this guy would never do that! It’s out of character. You need to fix that.”

After my unsuccessful attempts to tell them why they’re wrong for saying this, I find myself looking deeper in the critiquer’s claims. I often discover that they‘re right—and that’s a good thing. This means that I’ve successfully created a character with whom my reader can associate and they can recognize when my character is being “told” by me to do something that he just wouldn’t do.

This level of characterization can be hard with a fictional character, but when it happens, the character jumps from the book and comes alive. When it doesn’t, the character seems two-dimensional and never seems to leave the flat page.

Consistency is important in characterization. People tend to be consistent in real life, and what are we representing with our fiction, but real life?

Take for example, my dad.

I’ve been missing my dad a little more than normal this last week, because Sunday marked the one year anniversary since he passed away. I was looking at old photographs of my dad last week and was amused when I saw him wearing almost the exact same shirt in pictures taken 40 years apart. The first photo shows him when I was a baby in the late 1960’s; he's standing next to my mom, who is holding me in her arms. The second photo shows him near the end of his life in December 2008, a little over a year ago and just two months before he died. You have to examine the photographs carefully to see that my dad is, in fact, not wearing the same shirt.

My dad was consistent. His tastes in clothing, apparently, didn’t change much from when he was a young father to when he was an elderly man about ready to pass from this world.

I hope I can catch that same sort of consistency in the characters I create—and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some of those characters end up being a lot like my dad.


Braden said...

Sorry to hear about the struggle with the anniversary. I can imagine that is extremely hard.

I love this post, though, and the shirt was an amazing way to represent that!

Braden said...

I meant to add one other thing. The trick, I think, is that there are times when we do act inconsistently, and that is where the drama is. How to do inconsistency, in a way that is somehow grounded is tricky.

Darvell Hunt said...

That's a good point, Braden. A character's learning curve is what often violates this consistent behavior.

Take, for example, Ebenezer Scrooge. He has certainly been consistent throughout most of his life, but he changes that behavior near the end of the story.

We always LOVE to see a character learn something and change-- but it must be done in a believable way. The more we have seen that established consistency, tho, the more emotional the change is for us when it comes.

Very good point. Thanks for sharing.

Connie Hall said...

Good pictures. You are right your dad always dressed the same, just like my husband. Good blog.

L.T. Elliot said...

I love those pictures of your dad. My heart's with you on this anniversary (and your thoughts on AI were so touching.)

That was an excellent point about being consistent. I love when I'm reading and a story becomes mine--the characters, friends.