Ever met someone who plays the perpetual victim? Doesn’t much matter what happens to them, they spin events in such a way that they become the victim, either of other people’s actions, perceived actions, thoughts, fate, or cosmic events. I find it pretty tough to relate with these people, to find any common ground. What makes these people difficult to love is their complete lack of personal responsibility. “Sorry to hear you were fired. Do you think it’s because you were embezzling funds, ignoring customers, and playing solitaire all day?”
“No way. My boss totally hates me! Story of my life!”
Somewhere along the line, this mentality has crept into the craft of fiction. How many books have you read that feature victims rather than heroes? Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for a character struggling against injustice. But, for the love of all things good, make this character accept responsibility for his or her actions! Taking responsibility for mistakes is an admirable trait, and one that we often forget is necessary in fiction.
For the sake of familiarity, I’ll borrow from the literary classic we’re all familiar with—Spider-man, the movie released in 2002. One thing that makes Spider-Man one of my favorite characters is the fact that he owns up to his mistake. Rather than looking at the death of his Uncle Ben as a cruel twist of fate, he takes responsibility. He was the one who let the killer go free because of his petty selfishness. More so, he spends his life making up for that one mistake. Now that’s a kid I can root for.
But there’s more to it. Remember the scene toward the end where Green Goblin holds Mary Jane (Spider-Man’s life-long love interest) in one hand, and a trolley car full of kids in another. Hovering hundreds of feet over the ocean, Goblin says, “That’s the problem with being a hero. Sooner or later you have to choose.” Then, he drops both. Of course, Hollywood takes the easy way out and has Spider-Man save both.
But imagine how much more interesting a character he would become if he DID choose. Imagine the children die. That hovers over his head forever. Or if he lets Mary Jane fall. Here’s a character I’m interested in.
Bottom line: make your characters choose. Make them take responsibility for that choice. Let that choice define your character. Think of your current work-in-progress. What choices have your characters made? How do those choices affect them, and the world around them? If you character is not choosing, consider making some revisions to your current story line. Make your characters make their beds. Then make sure they have nowhere else to sleep.