The-art-of-having-differing

How To Disagree With Your Characters

By on September 24, 2014 . Category Column

You can’t believe everything you write. At least, not of your writing stories worth reading.

One of the most interesting things about people is how differently each of them see the world. If your characters have any depth to them, the same will be true for the cast of your book.

And that’s great—writers love creating different personas and stressing on being attributes. It’s fun!

But what about when it’s not so fun? What about when your character thinks in a way that’s not just different from how you see things, but in direct opposition to you?

This comes up a lot in villains, who might believe that slavery or murder is perfectly fine. They might be racist or sexist, and you are (hopefully) none of those things.

And somehow, in a villain, it seems okay. They’re supposed to be despicable, after all.

Not every character we disagree with is an evil vision, though. Sometimes, a member of our primary cast might disagree with us. “Why would I write such a character?” you might ask, but really, it can be important or even necessary. Often, these characters add dimension to your story. Or they are necessary for plot reasons. Or maybe you just want to challenge yourself—who knows? The point is, there will be times where you won’t be 100% on-board with a character you’re writing…and I’m going to help you with that!

Here’s an example: say you have a character who’s in a different political party than you are. You can’t automatically make them a “bad” character because they disagree with your politics (I mean, you can, but it’s kind of childish). And you can’t write them to always sound like idiots every time they talk (again, technically you can, but it’s lame).

So to write this character accurately—and respectfully—you’re going to have to get inside their head.

You don’t ever have to agree with them, but you really should understand where they’re coming from. If you’re going to write it realistically, you’ll have to know why your character thinks the way they think, why they hold this belief, and where these feelings originated. Again, you don’t have to agree with it, but you’re going to want to do it justice.

Let’s get into a specific example. Say you’re an avid animal lover, and one of your characters is deeply dog-phobic. On top of it, they’re a germaphobe, so they find animals gross. Due to this, your character has developed a strong dislike of animals Not abusive or mean, but they just really don’t like animals and don’t want to have them around.

Again, you don’t get it…but they do.

So try to understand their perspective. What’s it like to be so fearful and grossed-out by animals that you can’t bring yourself to go near them? It means that whatever rewards you get from playing with puppies don’t exist to this character. They don’t get the warm fuzzy feeling you get from a cute kitten…they get anxiety, fear, stress, and worry about getting fur on their clothes. They don’t see a dog at the park and immediately want to pet it, scratch its ears, and play fetch with it…they’re afraid it’s going to bark at them and possibly bite them. They’re worried about it jumping on them, scratching them, and sending them to the hospital. So naturally, for them, seeing an animal is a very different experience than it is for you.

You have to have some kind of sense of that attitude, and that pain. You have to look at the roots of those emotions: If dogs are rooted in memories of love, childhood joy, and playfulness for you, it might be hard to see how for another person they’re rooted in fear, pain, and insecurity…but if you master the art of stepping into someone else’s perspective, you’ll be an amazing person.

And you know what else? You’ll be an amazing person.

 

Which character of yours is most opposite you?

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