Getting out in the world can be a great lesson for a writer. Among other things, it reminds us how complex our characters should be if they are going to seem realistic.
Last week, my husband and I ran into another couple out in the country. He had met them before but I hadn’t. Or so I thought. We chatted away about our jobs, our families and how much we liked being “in the country.” Then their daughter and son-in-law arrived and reality dawned.
We had met before and the only reason I remembered was because of how she had interacted with her son-in-law. Let’s just say OMG and leave it at that. The next morning I got to spend some time with her and her daughters. Fortunately, knitting often means having to count stitches and non-knitters generally can’t tell when you are counting and when you are avoiding conversation. Is this the same person who was so nice to me yesterday? Holy cow.
What does this have to do with characterization? Often our characters behave the same way with absolutely everyone. Our heroes are heroic. Our villains are mean. And that is that.
But real people very often behave one way with one group of people and another way with another group and yet a third way with a third group. The differences can be astonishing.
Think about it. A nine-year-old is going to talk and act one way with classmates. Then there is the behavior that their parents see. Doting grandparents? They see an entirely different set of behaviors.
People are complicated. While a character who was that complicated would probably be confusing, they need to be multidimensional. At the very least this means behaving one way with allies and another with the protagonist.
Because writing just wasn’t complicated enough before.