1. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    Baggage

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by KhalieLa, Dec 4, 2015.

    I often hear people say they don't want to get involved with others who have "baggage." As in, "I won't date a veteran because they have baggage," or "I won't date a woman with kids; too much baggage."

    In real life we avoid and often shun those who've suffered from trauma (abusive childhood, domestic violence, war vets, rape, etc.) We also avoid those we deem mentally unstable (attempted suicides, alcoholics, drug addicts, those suffering from depression, schizophrenia, etc). Then we avoid seemingly normal people who've just happened to have bad experiences (divorce, illness, bankruptcy, crime victims, etc.) This is all done in the name of avoiding people with baggage.

    Yet, as an author the first thing I do is create a backstory for my characters; I deliberately create baggage to make them interesting. I can't imagine writing a perfectly 'normal' well-adjusted individual to which nothing traumatic happens.

    Your thoughts---
     
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  2. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think, to put it extremely simply (maybe over-simplifying), "baggage" as described above is fuel for drama. Which is ideal for a story, but something a strong majority of people would like to avoid in their everyday lives.
     
  3. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    But I wonder if it's been taken too far.

    This came to mind because an acquaintance of mine recently announced that he just dumped another woman because she had two kids, which in his opinion was too much baggage. I held my tongue and refrained from pointing out that he was divorced himself and with 4 kids had twice the baggage she had. AND I suspect he had more baggage because he was shunned by his church (he's Mormon) because of the divorce and the whole reason for the divorce was because he came home early one night to find his wife having sex with another woman.

    I just got to thinking, our baggage makes us human since was are the sum of our experiences. Would you refuse to date Ann Frank? Helen Keller? King James 1? Jesus? All of them had baggage in excess.

    I could never write a plain vanilla character and I don't think I could date one either.
     
  4. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    But we're all special! People other than ourselves weren't thinking clearly when they ended up where they are with their inferior coping methods, obviously retarded perspectives, and dysfunctional emotions. Not like me, people don't understand my story. ;)
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2015
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  5. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    So you're writing an autobiography then? ;)
     
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  6. Boger
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    Boger Contributing Member

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    i actually bond with those people to a certain degree
    it is intense
     
  7. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would love to avoid depression in everyday day life. if only I could but it creeps in if I want it to or not.
     
  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think real life is much different from fiction - we can always put the book down.

    In real life, there are sometimes challenges that just aren't worth taking on. And, yes, I would not be interested in dating the people on your list. It's not a judgement on the person to not want to date them, it's just the reality of what you're looking for in your life. Now, sometimes you meet someone and the attraction is strong enough to overcome common sense, but if it's not? Why sign up for misery?
     
  9. LemonadeLover
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    LemonadeLover Member

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    I think if you look hard enough into someones past you'd find baggage, no matter how normal or adjusted they seem on the outside. I don't consciously go out of my way to avoid people with "baggage", however, I have enough of my own to deal with and don't know if I could cope with anyone else's. That said, if they dealt with it well and I wasn't being made to feel like an emotional atm then I really, really wouldn't care- everyone has a past. It's wonderful being able to pick up a book and escape into someone else's life with all of the challenges that they have to face, without being affected by it all in your own life.
     
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  10. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    But I wonder if avoiding these people isn't making us miserable in the end.

    When you look at studies like this: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-06-22-friendship_x.htm
    Study: 25% of Americans have no one to confide in.
    "Americans have a third fewer close friends and confidants than just two decades ago — a sign that people may be living lonelier, more isolated lives than in the past. In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them, says a study in today's American Sociological Review. In 2004, that number dropped to two, and one in four had no close confidants at all."

    Perhaps deliberately avoiding people and their "baggage" makes us lonely. After all, why should I refuse to befriend someone simply because they served in the Armed Forces and therefore might come with "baggage." What does it say about me as an individual if I deliberately avoid a co-worker with cancer because cancer something that would be fraught with emotion and might bring me face to face with my own mortality. Why avoid the widow whose alcoholic husband died in a car accident 5 years ago on the assumption that she still carries baggage?

    We've all got something in our past. Why avoid others because they do too? If we must create a back story to make our characters interesting and believable, why avoid interesting and believable people in the real world?
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think of "baggage" as having something in your past, something you've left behind. If you've left it behind, it's no longer baggage.

    I think of baggage as being what people are still carrying around. And honestly? I'd prefer to avoid being entangled in someone else's issues.

    What does it say about you if you deliberately avoid a coworker with cancer? Unless you've got serious "baggage" of your own in the area, it really shouldn't be that difficult to be reasonably supportive of a casual acquaintance. I think someone who avoided a sick coworker, absent personal trauma, is probably being selfish. But we're not talking about coworkers, are we?

    I think we're talking about romantic relationships. And avoiding a romantic relationship with someone who has cancer just makes sense, to me. Why would I invite that kind of trauma into my life?
     
  12. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    Actually, I was talking about characters.
    All of my characters have a backstory and a good many carry their baggage with them. I was just shocked when one of my co-workers (ish--he's in a different department) announced he was dropping yet another woman because she had half the kids he did. And of course, he was shunned by his Church because he got a divorce, so a good many in the community now avoid him because of his past. I happily talk to and interact with him, despite all the craziness that happened in his life. (Heck his life is interesting enough that some of it could serve as book material.)
     
  13. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, yeah, obviously most of our characters have baggage - they tend to be living through traumas/adventures/situations that are dramatic enough for us to write books about!

    Have you read many books where nothing bad happens to the characters? I don't think I have...
     
  14. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    It is very true in the dating scene that we hate in others what we hate about ourselves. That's probably what's going on with the co-worker at a, if not conscious, unshareable level. I know I'm guilty of the hypocrisy, but at the same time, it's only human to avoid more problems and aim for less potential ones.
     
  15. jannert
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    I think interesting stories can certainly happen to 'vanilla' characters. Plunk a character who has had a trouble-free life knee deep in the Swanee. You get to see what they're actually made of.

    I think I want characters to seem real and to seem human. Not everybody carries baggage. I know many interesting people who have had great childhoods, have good marriages and careers ...and are people worth writing about. In fact people without significant baggage can be less annoyingly self-absorbed than those with past traumas to (constantly) deal with. I think it's more interesting to create a variety of characters, some with baggage, some without. However, whatever traumas the main characters bring into the story, you must give them a hard time within the story! Chuck them into the lake and make them swim.
     
  16. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    But the OP said " I can't imagine writing a perfectly 'normal' well-adjusted individual to which nothing traumatic happens."

    So... being "knee deep in the Swanee", whatever that means, is probably something traumatic happening, right?

    There has to be some drama somewhere. There has to be some trauma, or there's no story.
     
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  17. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bwahahahahahahahahahahhhhhhah!!!! :superlaugh:
     
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  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Aye. But drama that unfolds in a story is different from baggage brought into it. Baggage is drama a character brings to a story from the past, and I think that's what the OP was referring to.
     
  19. SilentDreamer
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    SilentDreamer Member

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    Weird question, but its something that troubled me with a few characters - do you add the back story into the actual story, or is the back story more for you to know where they come from and what their baggage is, to be referred to in the story, but not completely alluded to?

    I always wonder if I give too much of the back story, and should provide a more/...vague....outline of their back stories in relation to reactions to trauma etc in the story?

    Interesting thread though, You have a good point - we do avoid those with baggage, and forget we also have our own....sad really.
     
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  20. Tom13
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    Tom13 Member

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    Personally I can not understand the approach of avoiding getting close to someone because they have 'baggage'. People are people and you either like them or you don't, if you approach potential friendships thinking what you are going to get out of it, or what you are going to have to put in, then maybe your perspectives are not what they should be.

    Anyway I have yet to find anyone, how ever 'normal' they appear to the outside world who is a not a bit of a freak underneath.

    And yes, I think characters with troubled pasts make for the best reading. In my WiP pretty much everyone is screwed up, their back stories get dragged into the current story and to a greater or lesser extent by the end that have faced their past and got through it. Or they're dead. Either way they're not worrying about it much anymore.
     
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  21. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    In life, you want everything to be peaceful and calm and relaxed. In a book, you want the opposite.

    There's an unspoken promise between writer and reader that, in the end, the protagonists will win. Be it a big bad antagonist they're winning against or their own fears; you know - or at least expect - that there will be a happy/satisfying ending. Life has no such guarantees, it's understandable why people out in the real world are more cautious with their choices by weighing them up. Baggage only adds to the weight, and gives nothing (or so most people think) in return for it.
     
  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I can only answer for myself: Whatever my character brings to the story as his/her history is pertinent to the story I want to tell, because I have an idea of the kind of story I want to tell from the start. I don't give the character random backstory just "to see where things go". I know that's not really what you asked, but... I do make reference to their history, because otherwise why have it?

    Do we avoid people with baggage, or do we avoid people advertising their baggage? I think @BayView made a good point earlier in the thread. We've all had shit we've gone through, but some people deal with their shit and get past it and others don't. Some people wave their damage around like a flag, or worse, like a trophy, waiting for compensation from who-knows-where. I would never avoid someone because of their past, that would never be the actual impetus for me to avoid them. I would avoid someone whose past was making an undue demand on my present. Yes, that I would avoid. Not in all cases, but in those where I chose to walk the long way around, that would be the driving force, not just the fact that the person lived a life before I ran across them.
     
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  23. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    As the OP, uhmm, both?
    The character has to have some form of baggage to be the catalyst for their actions.
    If Inigo Montoya suddenly shows up, sword in hand, to kill the 6 fingered man the reader is left confused. For the story to make since you need to know he's dragging around a bunch of baggage. (You killed my father; prepare to die!)

    Drama must unfold in the story, but the baggage determines how the character will act, or react, given the situation we present them. If we don't give them baggage, as authors, we don't have a lot to work with.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2015
  24. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    It depends on the character. In my current WIP, the MC gets her backstory put on display because it directs where the story goes and helps drive the narrative. The reader needs to know she is being hunted down because of her lawless past, otherwise situations in the story itself would make no sense. I divulge backstory in conversation with others, and occasionally in her private thoughts, but it has to be there.

    Other characters, not so much. One of them has PTSD, which helps me understand how he reacts in given situations, but it's not a driving force of the story so his back story goes largely untold.

    Glad you find it interesting!
     
  25. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Everyone has some kind of "baggage," and how heavy it is relates to the scope of experience. For instance, because I've been through some pretty heavy shit in life, I don't really consider something like my parents being divorced as "baggage." But others who carry around different baggage might.

    I don't think that people avoid baggage in general, but they pick and choose which baggage they're willing to accept. Very often in dating, this translates to avoiding dating single parents.

    The human condition blinds us to our own issues, and magnifies the baggage of those around us.
     

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