by Peggy Bechko
Characters and character development, we all think a lot about it and them. The people who populate your script or novel must be real. They must have flaws as well as commendable attributes.
I think we all know the parable of The One You Feed. If you don’t, here it is:
An old grandfather told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment. The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and bravery.”
The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”
Okay, got it? Now, how does that apply here? Think about the characters you create. If you imbue them with too much evil; anger, jealousy, greed and resentment and couple that with incredibly cocky, curly, apathetic to what others may feel and a gigantic chip on his or her shoulder, well you may have gone too far. It would be hard for a reader or watcher to want to dive into your story and go along for the journey. It doesn’t matter if the character has a good reason for being so extreme, the reader/watcher is going to give up.
The same applies for the other wolf. A character completely without flaws, so filled with love, joy, hope, kindness, empathy and heroism that he or she fills the boat with saccharine goodness is probably going to sink it.
So, which do you want to feed, and how much?
A strong character, a good character, even a great character must be an amazing blend of strength, talents, failings and flaws.
That makes this tricky business. This brings up your story and your backdrop. When you decide on the stakes in your story, make them high. A situation that is dire, whether emotional or physical, even if the character is basically unlikable, can still cause the reader/audience to root for the character and become involved with the story.
And don’t forget to give that character endearing qualities such as wit, humor, feistiness. How many times have you watched a movie or read a book wherein you weren’t too fond of the characters actions, perhaps that character was manipulative, selfish or even occasionally mean and yet have been drawn in because you enjoyed the humor or admired that character for standing up for what was right or what was wanted.
So the above parable applies in the writer’s world in that there is a balance and going beyond that to tip it can totally destroy what you’ve built. People, every one of us, have flaws. Minor and major.
Make your hero or heroine complex. Choose the right flaws. Don’t be the writer who rushes your character development because you think you have such a great story and are so eager to get words up on the blank white screen before you that you just slap something together choosing one from column A and another from column B.
It’s all too easy to miss the depth you need in a character using that method. Remember when your characters have negative traits it is the Why lurking behind them that creates a compelling character. The character you create might be irrational or irresponsible, or hypocritical or works insane hours to the detriment to family and friendships. But at the core of it is the why.
Think about it. Dive deeper. Create a stunner of a character and you’ll create a stunning story.