Committing to Characters
(Even if it Means that People Misjudge You)
When people have asked me questions about The Data Collectors trilogy, they often wanted to know if the characters were me or if I could relate to them. Many friends and colleagues eyed me suspiciously as if I were secretly hiding a deeper, darker aspect of my personality from the world.
In truth, I think damaged characters that have the opportunity to grow and not remain static are more intriguing. And yes, while I share some characteristics with a few of them, they are not me. In the effort of building a good story, I would take the everyday character flaws that a person might espouse in real life and multiply that disfunction by a hundred-fold.
I also used the opportunity to tie my training in emotional intelligence and personality types to my characters. Additionally, it helped me predict how the audience might react to certain situations. (More on this in upcoming articles because I think there’s a huge potential in building characters and plotlines in this way.)
However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly concerned that potential clients, colleagues, and the world at large would wonder if some of my mentally unhealthy characters were secretly a reflection of me. And I found myself initially avoiding going too over-the-top with protagonists by making them sound too kind and not nearly as ornery as they sometimes were in my head. It took a bit for me to get past this block because I realized that this hesitation does a disservice to the characters, the story, and the readers.
In a recent memorial show honoring Betty White, they complimented the comedian for completely committing to her roles, even if they were sometimes rude, simple, or slutty. They observed that many female comedians, back in the day, were afraid the public would think they were like their character. But not Betty. She was all in and committed to every role.
As I’m finishing writing my first mystery novel, If I Didn’t Care, I decided to take a tip from Betty. On the one hand, I’m not adding in any gratuitous language or sex scenes (or anything that isn’t true to the character or story). However, I am letting my characters be exactly as they want to be, even if this means those reading make the assumptions that I am rude, bawdy and manipulative.
In truth, while The Data Collectors had many clearly-defined protagonists and antagonists, this is not so much the case in If I Didn’t Care. And, in some ways, it’s giving the characters more depth.
Because, really, how often are any of us all good, all the time?