One of the best parts of being a series fiction writer is when readers connect with or relate to one or more characters I’ve summoned up by a wave of my magic writing wand.
I love the fan mail and comments by readers who either hate to love, love to hate, or simply have fallen in love (or hate) with some of my characters.
One reader awhile back bemoaned the fact that a particular character recently got married, and it pissed him off. Why? Because he always thought he would have had a chance with her.
But now that she’s married, she’s off the market, and he’s afraid of what her husband might do.
Yeap, I ain’t making this one up folks. Although I get paid to make sh*t up, on this one if I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’.
And then there have been a few faux threats of physical violence when one or more of my characters get into deep sh*t in one of the stories. Threats warning me nothing better happen to the character(s) because if it does, the reader is coming for me.
All in good fun, folks, all in good fun.
At least I think it’s all in good fun. I mean, I hope it is.
But the point is in these particular series pieces, most of my reading base (albeit smaller than I’d like) have grown to expect certain traits from each of the characters. When they read one of these series, they hope to see nervous tics, phobias, back and forth bickering and badgering, old bad habits which never seem to die.
The very minute one of the reader’s favorite characters strolls onto centerstage visualizations of what that character looks like, how they behave to certain stimuli, and how they treat other characters have already sprung up in the reader’s head.
For the reader, it’s almost like putting on that comfortable sweater, fixing a spot of tea, and curling up in their favorite reading spot. They already know what they’re going to get, and they expect just that.
They’re expecting to read predictable characterizations that allow their imaginary storybook friends to spring to life on the page and, more importantly, in their minds.
For a writer, there’s no pressure to deliver these predictable characters daily, right?
Whoo boy, so, so wrong.
Just like any writer, sometimes I sometimes suffer from brain flatulence.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve teed off on a story only to discover during initial edits, I’d written my characters behaving inconsistently to their nature in previous stories.
Unless the characters are suffering from some mind control attack or some really, really good drugs and letting their alto egos out (which I never put there in the first place), a misstep like that is almost guaranteed to bring the reader to a screeching halt.
Hey, that’s a pretty nifty idea; the mind control thing, not the screeching halt thing.
But I digress.
The way to a reader’s brain is through their eyeballs (or ear canals for you audiophiles out there) and if a writer screws up and delivers an inconsistent characterization to the reader two things are likely to happen.
This first one rarely happens, but it does happen. It’s the moment you introduce a counterintuitive character flaw or virtue in one of your characters, and the reader simply accepts it and then expects to see it again in future stories.
The second thing is often more likely. The reader pukes all over your story at the outset and sends you a humongous WTF comment wanting to know when you as a writer starting smoking crack.
Both scenarios aren’t pretty, the second one for the most obvious reasons, but the first scenario is just as deadly, and here’s why.
The first scenario is like a silent killer because you, as a writer, slipped up and let the new character flaw or virtue fly without notice. You didn’t bother to build a reason for this latest trait; you simply screwed up and let it happen.
Now the reader is expecting to see it time and time again.
Think about it. Your loyal readers are now expecting to read a mistake you just made in all future works which include that particular character.
When they don’t, you get another WTF comment from your reader base, or worse, you lose your flipping reader base altogether. If the story is built around the characters (as most are) and they fall apart and lack cohesive predictability, the story will just as quickly disintegrate.
I’ve read works where a character behaved a certain way in chapter one and by the end of the story behaved differently with no reasonable explanation as to what led to the character’s change.
It’s all make-believe, yes, but a fiction writer needs to pay attention to the fantasy he/she is trying to create.
Especially the characters we create.
On the flip side of predictability, some may argue they really don’t care to read fiction where the characters are so predictable.
It’s a variety is the spice of life kind of thing.
Yes, sometimes, we readers want to enjoy the total unpredictability of a character, often hoping to be surprised by a “didn’t see that coming” moment.
But to have characters bouncing all over the emotional spectrum every single story only for variety’s sake isn’t going to cut it either.
A lot of readers, myself included, expect to see personal growth in a character. We want to evolve with the character, enjoy their successes, and cry about their failures. We want to know why a particular character acts or responds to things in the manner they do.
There’s a trick to writing delightfully predictable stories, stories where the reader triumphantly shouts, “I knew it! I just knew it!” at the end.
Most of the time, the trick is to develop predictable characters who become solid performers in the minds of the readers.
You want your reader to be pleased to discover their favorite villain has come back even though he or she has been on stage more times than Moriarty in an Authur Connan Doyle story.
You want your readers to read about dear Dudley DoRight saving Nell from Snidely Whiplash regardless of what dastardly deed the Whipster is attempting this episode.
Oh come on folks, you’ve never heard of Dudley, Nell, and Snidely?
Wow, I’m older than I thought.
Anyway, if you’re a fiction writer, remember when you create persistent characters, repeat figures your readers expect to see each story make sure they’re predictable to some degree.
Predictable characters playing their part is what makes for a delightfully predictable story.
Thanks So Much For Reading
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