Which One is Your Character?

Envision This Scenario

Several workers are bustling about a meeting room, having been delegated to arrange the space for an evening meeting.

Nate, while setting up the microphone at the lectern, and accidentally knocks over the Be A Novelistglass of water prepared for the speaker.

Constance, who is on the floor below the raised podium concealing electrical cords with duct tape, receives a few splashes from the spilled water. Springing to her feet she says, “Nate, you clumsy oaf. Why can’t you ever watch what you’re doing? You can’t be trusted to do anything right.”

Josh rushes to Nate’s side and slings an arm around his shoulders. “Hey, man, no biggie. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Coulda happened to anybody.” Looking down at Constance he adds, “Even her.

Tina’s quiet voice cooed from behind Josh. “Aww. Poor Nate. It’s all right Nate. Don’t feel bad. No one blames you. It’s just a nasty little accident.”

Be A NovelistFrom the other side of the room, Darla starts pointing at people and shouting orders machine-gun fashion. “You get a mop from the janitor’s closet; you go to the restroom and grab a handful of paper towels; you go to the kitchen and get another glass of water and a pitcher with extra water as well.”

Before Darla even spoke, Malcolm approached the podium dragging a mop and mumbling, “It’s always up to me. Nobody else has sense enough to know what to do. Don’t know what they’d do around here if it weren’t for me. They’re darn lucky I even decided to come and help.”

Question:

Which one represents your character?  How would your character react in this situation?  If you’re not sure, you may be in trouble.

Think about the people in this group. We have the carefree person, the mercy person, and the caustic one who is quick to cast blame. Then there’s the take-charge administrator, ever ready to administrate and regain order. Bringing up the rear is the Eeyore-type weighted down with the martyr’s cloak.

Understand Human Behavior

This isn’t to say these are the only personality types in the world, but rather to state that as a novelist it’s important to study human behavior. Understanding and evaluating human behavior is crucial to creating realistic, believable characters.

As your character is developed, that character’s personality and inclinations must be strongly etched in your mind. As each one acts out his (or her) role, he springs to life. Josh slings his arm over Nate’s shoulder; Tina coos; Darla points and yells. Your character’s actions – and words – reflect how that person moves morally and psychologically through your story.  Once that is clearly defined, never force the character to perform an action that goes against his personal morality unless a definitive inner change has taken place.

The actions you assign to your character must be carefully selected to portray not only his outer life, but his inner life as well.

In other words, I could not imagine Constance cooing merciful words to Nate. Could you?

At least, not in the magical, novel-world of suspending disbelief.

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Be A NovelistRe-release of the fourth book in my Tulsa Series (Return to Tulsa) originally published by Barbour Publishing in 1995, now available on Kindle and Nook.  Return to Tulsa is historical fiction set against the backdrop of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. Check it out HERE.

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Photo credit: © Milogu | Dreamstime.com

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