Character Thoughts

A query: why do some people get annoyed by characters in a book doing things “out of character”. I mean, surely the world is not that black and white? Surely many people consistently do things that aren’t the norm in their standard context. Surely an exploration of this apogee of who they are defines them in more detail? A human mind is massively complex, so do people really like to read about people who aren’t ever going to change the texture of their day?

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

4 replies on “Character Thoughts”

It’s a tricky one as more often than not it is probably linked with bad writing eg a character does something to serve the plot, not themsleves. I have an issue with that.

On the other hand you are right in that real people often do things that would be labelled out of character. I guess as a reader I would like to see “out of character” actions be set up as “in character” eg that guy is totally unpredictable or that their questionable actions are justified later.

I think the main drive of your post is poking at something much deeper and that is that fiction is an idealised reality. Fiction usually has to make sense, with defined progression, satisying conclusion and consistent characters populating it. This doesn’t happen in real life, possibly explaining our need/love of fiction.

Perhaps this is an issue with escapist fiction – that it seeks to escape not only reality in terms of the texture of the worlds, but of the functions of narrative and character? That many readers have an expectation for characters to conform to a convention that isn’t perfectly real?

I think so. People like to impose order onto the randomness around them. Some attribute it to a God, and/or seek refuge in predictable entertainment. It’s partly why we have laws and government in an attempt to impose order on the universe. We’d all like it if criminals had a look to them but they don’t (although they usually do in fiction).
I suspect most murder/law/hospital cases are never as entertaining, predictable and wrapped up as they are in fiction.
If you look at the entertainment industry as a whole, people in general want predictable, well trodden themes. There’s only a handful that want something really different, and they may find they don’t like it when they get it.
The irony is that if something is different and successful, others will copy it until it becomes it’s own sub-genre. The beauty of memetics!

Yup, out of character behaviour is fine as long as it still feels real and people can relate to the choice, when a character is completely inconsistent or does one thing that is sooo clearly not believable and just a plot device it breaks the spell.
I like to see characters do something not typical of the way they are presented because they are in an unusual situation. Faced with something outside our experience we can’t predict our reactions, that gives some flexibility.

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