Making Your Characters Bed

C2007921133147851086_Modern_BedEver 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.

10 Comments on Making Your Characters Bed

  1. I laughed at the “No, way, my boss totally hates me” line. You used illustrations that actually illuminate. Your advice makes sense and will prove helpful in crafting a good story with a hero people can root for. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. It gives me some specifics to look for when working on a rewrite.–Tom

  2. This reminds me of my character Niana, she regrets something deeply imbedded in her heart, which was when her sister who was only around 10 years of age was killed in front of her very eyes. She had the choice to save her, in the terms of killing her former lover Kalen, but when she looked inside his eyes, she just couldn’t push herself to kill him in the result of him killing her little sister. Which is why she dedicates herself to save as many innocent people she can, even if someone is evil like Kalen she wouldn’t be able to stand to watch them die. So she really, has a lot of conflict in her head from that moment in her life, deciding what would have happened if she had killed Kalen, would she have felt better or no? Which I think is what I love about her the most.

  3. Victim characters drive me nuts. Those “He/she is out to get me” types are almost as irritating in real life as they are in fiction. After a while, the reader just stops feeling for them at all. And as we all know, that’s not good.
    If a character takes responsibility for his/her choices, however, it’s a serious draw-in for the reader.
    For example, one of my favorite stories that I have experienced within the past few years told about how a young man was deceived by his mentor and managed to kill hundreds of people in an instant. After some reflection and a little bit of whining (the guy’s just a kid, give him a break), the main character decided to take responsibility for his actions and became a better person. That part of the story deeply affected me, so it was very well done. He could have easily blamed his evil mentor and wallowed his life away in misery, but he chose to grow because of it.
    Long post short, a good character is a complex and well-developed character.

  4. Amber (Squirrel) Hynes | September 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Reply

    i like the part about making the character choose. its a great idea and tells your readers the personality and motives of the character. and the people who feel sorry for themselves do get rather annoying. i agree with squid, someone who takes responsibility is far more interesting, by a long shot.

  5. When having a character make a choice that either way will have a drastic outcoome, brings your character to life and shows his or her’s true colors. In the book that I’m in the process of writing, the main lead, Zear, has to choose to either save herself or a total stranger she has never met from the Alcles ( a six foot, furry, five eyed beast) that the only way to servive is for one of them to give themselfs to the beast so the other has a chance to excape. Due to the prier events leading up to that situation, many would guess her dicision to be the ovious, but that’s were youra wrong. Her choice leaves all, including me, in complet shock.

  6. Making your character choose is, in most cases, a better thing to do in your story. Then you will be able to be in the characters shoes and decide what you would have done and why. Like with the spiderman example if he had chosen the kids he would save innocent lives, but yet the love of his life would have to die. But if he had chosen to save Mary Jane he would regret letting all the little children die. Either way the story would have been better because then you could feel where the character is coming from.

  7. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like that but on the other hand I have seen movies where the character is like that, thinks everyone is out to get them and dosent take responsibility for their own actions. This does seem like it would be irritating but I think that the writers must have made the person like that to portray the right vision in their mind. I think that they should have probably came up with something better but in the end, is it what we want to see or what they want to show? The answer is what we want to see but still. . .just a thought

  8. Jonathan Calzada | September 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Reply

    This idea makes me think of their true self. Say a soldier has his squad about to be killed, while a poor innocent little baby is going to get hit by a bus. He would completely los his mind, to get a character to break down is best, then he won’t regret his actions when he makes peace with himself.

  9. There was a twist on the character that plays the “victim” in one story I read a long time ago, but can’t remember the title. It was one of the main characters and he was very stand-offish and just plain feeling sorry for himself, but for a reason. It ends up that that main character was out to get the character that’s telling the story in the first-person, which was pretty interesting to read because no one would suspect that the annoying kid ,aside from the one who was accused of being the “bad guy”, actually turned out to be the opposing force. However, considering that this was an out-of-the-box kind of story, in my opinion it didn’t have enough drive to keep me going. That’s why I love setting boundaries and breaking them, building bridges over walls, and creating lines that seem impossible to cross for the characters.

  10. Forcing your character to choose between two things will definitely spark some interest. Like you said what if Spiderman actually had to choose between Mary Jane and the children? What would he do? If he saves the kids then he’s a hero to them and their parents and those poor souls are able to live longer than their elementary school years. Whereas if he chose to rescue Mary Jane, you could look at it in many ways. Some people would say he’s selfish for saving her and others might say he’s romantic for it. Either way Spiderman would’ve been much more interesting if he had to make a choice.

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