Opposition in Characterization

Night and day, dark and light… good and evil, truth and lie…Opposites exist on every level of our life. It can be as obvious as the way we learn because of the opposite values that reside in our brains. Right brain – creativity… left brain – logic. It can be subtle. It can be overt. We struggle with opposing views and make decisions based on positive and negative consequences and even weigh choices depending upon the good and bad aspects of those outcomes. We grow up hearing that opposites attract and although the adage seems to be truer for magnets than people, we often hold trust in the truths of old and some of us even end up partnered with them. The balance is often what provides the needed spark to fuse the connection but it can also have the opposite effect if too diverse.

When talking about opposites in writing, I not only think of writing something that is different from my usual repertoire, out of my genre, a different style, or purely experimental; I also think of it as writing something “out of character.” If we do end up writing an aspect to our story that is way out there, we often are reluctant to take ownership for anything that might be perceived as “bad” and sharing that particular revelation can be somewhat embarrassing. A recent reader solicited to review a novel I have in the editing stages, commented “this is not the Linda I know…” True, my character tended to swear more than a little and anyone who knows me, knows I don’t use that kind of language in everyday conversation. I was also aware that it was uncomfortable for them to read scenes you would call explicit because they associate the words with the person they know in so many other ways – except that one. What can be perceived as a particularly dark subject is naturally not easy to write, yet if we are to have a compelling story we need conflict and we need to draw interest based on what is being read. Even the simplest controversy drives some writers into dismay and denial. I had one author tell me that she couldn’t write it into her character to lie because she was taught to always tell the truth. With further discussion, she did relent – but only a little. It was a necessary untruth for her character so that the story could move along to a discovery that brought us to a satisfying resolution. Those misgivings have to be acceptable to the writer because the story belongs to the writer. It also depends on what lesson you are trying to relay and to what audience. Sensationalizing, just to get a rise out of your reader, is not encouraged – you are trying to garner a readership based on well crafted stories, not turn them off.

In all honesty, however, fictional characters are derived from our imagination. We write what we know and include it in the situations to which our characters relate. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person because you have the ability to characterize in such a manner or that you have personally done any of things you allow your character to do. You are probably the total opposite. Being able to write real characters, means you have learned and received this training through life experience and recall, and have developed the ability to adapt other’s situations to your story ideas. We paint a picture of reality in our written images and all characters, good or bad, are based on some such perception. A writer friend tells of an interview she heard involving the Outlander series author, Diana Gabaldon. This author shares the story of readers who told her they hated her antagonist because he was such a despicable character. She replied that to hate him was to hate her…

This article is certainly not written to lay claim that every writer has done or experienced some aspect of the “dark side” in some way, whatever that “dark side” might be… it is just to open a truthful conversation on the nature of writing and how we develop characterization to make our stories as real as possible.


2 thoughts on “Opposition in Characterization

  1. I completely agree that our ‘imaged characters’ sometimes have traits that are the polar opposite of our own. This is what makes writing such a compulsion – we can explore anything and everything on the page, creating a circumstance that will engage our reader and hopefully make them return time and again to our work.
    Very insightful piece thank you

    1. wildhorse33

      Thanks Mandy – I can always count on you for your support and comments. As a friend and writing pal, I appreciate your input.

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