Let characters be true to themselves!
I’ve been writing novels now for a little over 20 years, albeit the early years were more a learning curve than anything else. My first thriller, The Savannah Project, was published in 2010 and I’ve had 6 more works of fiction published since then (one a short mystery) and two editions of a nonfiction work.
Enough of the preamble, right? So, why do I say characters should speak for themselves?
A few days ago, I received a review from a reader on Amazon. He was unhappy that one of my characters used profanity apparently above this reader’s tolerance level and decided he is through reading my books. I’m not criticizing this at all, he is entitled to his opinions and beliefs…I’m also not apologizing.
You see, most authors, certainly those who take their work seriously, put a lot of time and effort into building their characters. ALL OF THEM. The major characters, supporting characters, as well as the very minor ones. We take the time to build them their own unique personality with their own unique traits. Of course, there are a few authors out there who feel that a heavily profanity-laced story is the only way to go…but most, overwhelmingly, do not. Profanity is put in only where appropriate.
So, why would an author who takes their work seriously allow a character to speak ‘out of character?’ They wouldn’t. So, when that character interacts in a story with other characters or settings or incidents, shouldn’t the author allow the character(s) to speak the way the character was designed? For instance, how believable is a character who has already been made out to be very rough (or a myriad of other reasons) respond to a situation with “darn,” “shucks,” or “fudge?” They wouldn’t.
The author knows this is out of character and so does the reader. It isn’t fair to the author, it isn’t fair to the reader, and it certainly isn’t fair to the character!
Authors go to great lengths creating characters and we spend a lot of time ‘in the characters’ heads.’ We know what reaction a character will have to a certain situation in our story, so to allow something other than the ‘natural’ reaction a character would have is cheating everyone. It is also not believable.
Always, always, always, let the character be true to themselves.
I could say much more about characterization, but I think you get it by now.