1. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,220
    Likes Received:
    4,227
    Location:
    Alabama, USA

    Help! My characters are too much like Jesus Christ!!

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Link the Writer, Feb 18, 2016.

    In short, I have a problem with characterization. My characters all come off as too saintly, too much like Jesus Christ.

    For example: I was writing out a brief passage in my fantasy (skeletal-structure, now, not really refined yet) that talked about race relations and how pain could blind both sides from logic.

    Bit of background:
    Mishu - Rejormi; a minority race.
    Samula- Alkorian; a majority race.

    In short, it's part of a theme I'm building up now that examines how internal pain can disrupt conversation between the person who was hurt and the people the person is trying to get to listen. I want to show and describe that by lumping all members of the same group as one and calling them all "evil" does nothing but cause resentment and anger, make them not want to listen to the person. For some others within that lumped group, they may decide to just forgo trying to be decent and be the bigot the hurt person thinks they are.

    Here's the passage, if you 're curious. It's short, though, and not very developed, just warning you.

    “Pain has a way of blinding us to all logic,” Samula concluded. “All we can think of is the pain -- how we want it to go away. Perhaps it goes both ways.”

    “What do you mean?”

    He cleared his throat. “Well, if both sides are too caught up in their own pain, then they won't listen to what the other has to say. Take the two of us, for example. I bet that when we first met, you didn't think I would actually sit down and tell you to talk to me about your pain. I bet you thought that I -- like most other Alkorians -- thought you as hardly worth our time.”

    “Well, I-”

    “And it's okay if you did. Hells, it's understandable. I'd probably think all Alkorians were horrible if my whole life I was surrounded with the likes of Elder Gharim. My point is that, when we blind ourselves to our own pain, nothing moves forward. We're the victim, they're the aggressors. So we demonize them, we antagonize them and in turn, they stop listening to us because why should they? Why should people have to listen to someone who automatically assumes them evil before the conversation even starts? Perhaps we -- collectively -- must entertain the notion that no, not everyone is evil. There are people who want to help. Who want to listen, but they must be given a chance first.”

    “I gave you a chance?”

    “No,” he said, “I gave you a chance. I wanted to listen, but I had to first give you the chance to speak before automatically assuming you'd think me an evil Alkorian scumbag.”

    “But what if I did?”

    “Then I wouldn't have sat here listening to you talk. My point is, we all have some measure of pain to deal with, and even if the pain is understandable, we must give people a chance. You were the one that was hurting, all I did was listen.”

    So that we're clear here: Samula is a tavern employee. He's not a priest. He's not a demi-god in the form of a priest. He's a simple tavern employee talking like this to Mishu. Can you think of any employee in any food joint giving you life lessons like this?! Can you imagine someone at your local diner sitting you down and saying this to you after you've vented out your frustrations?

    The same is true for Kevin McKinley, the protagonist of a General Mysteries WiP. He's too saintly there. Here's a scene (the part where I was working out my inner demons) where he comforts his best friend when he finds out she had been cyber-bullied:

    “What son of a bitch told you this?” Kevin asked, his muscles tensing for a fight.

    She swallowed with difficulty. “A-A British person. An old man.”

    “You went to the UK?”

    “N-no, no, it was online,” she said hurriedly. “A history forum. He . . . his moniker was, H.Mortimer, he was from London.”

    Kevin nodded slowly. “And what did this Mortimer do?”

    “Every-every time . . .” She inhaled sharply as tears began to fill in her eyes. Kevin recognized pain when he saw it, so he remained silent, let her piece her thoughts together. “I posted, he would tell me how stupid I was. Ho-how much of an ignorant, selfish, entitled person I was because I was American. I didn't deserve to have an opinion. I didn't have the capacity to have an opinion.” She shuddered. “He-he did this when I wanted to learn about other cultures -- that's why I joined, to learn about countries outside my own. I-” she swallowed again. “I then decided to stick mainly in the American section of the forum, hopefully that would stop it, but then he got in!”

    Oh no . . .

    Kimberly went on, her pitch increased as the tears flowed freely. “He was worse in that section! He called me a racist, bigoted, self-centered, Republican American who thought she and her country were the only ones that mattered! He talked about how my pride, my ego would be cast down and deservingly so, that I wasn't even allowed to like talking about my own country's history. ‘There's no removing the glasses of arrogance from the Americans’, he would say. ‘Americans are the most selfish, self-entitled people on Earth. They don't deserve an opinion.’ He kept calling me this useless windbag, how my opinions mattered for shit. How so many people hated me and my kind.”

    All this to a young high school girl who just wanted to learn about the world . . . Kevin's jaw tightened with anger, his fingers itched to wrap around Mortimer's throat and throttle him until he was dead. You miserable son of a whore . . .

    “I . . . I'm just scared of history. I don't like it anymore. It's just people killing each other for stupid arbitrary reason, like freedom or national identities, like who gives a shit about any of that?”

    Kevin allowed himself a little nod. Fair point.

    “I'm scared of . . . I'm scared of you.”

    His mind went blank. Did he hear her right? “Of me?” he asked gently. “Kim, I've done nothing to you.”

    She shook her head. “B-but what if you do? What if you're . . . silently judging me? What if you're looking at me and going, ‘Wow, an albino Southerner, she must be a racist inbred. She's Catholic? She clearly hates gay people. Look at her studying the American Civil War, how arrogant of her. All Americans are arrogant!’”

    “K-Kim, I'm . . .” Horror was the only word he could describe it. Speechless horror. “I-I never once thought you were beneath me because of your albinism. I'm hearing-impaired, my cousin is. I volunteer at a school for the deaf and blind. I don't think any of those children are . . . inbred. Good Christ, no. I don't think you're racist, I've seen you hang out with Adrian and his buddies all the time, and they seem to like you. He wouldn't have let you anywhere near them if he thought otherwise.”

    “What of the Catholic thing? A-and the . . . Civil War?”

    Kevin took a deep breath. He knew from prior experience with online gaming chat centers that she was looking for either his permission, or a reason to continue with this vicious cycle. He also knew she was very vulnerable, having just spilled out a horrible secret she kept bottled for years.

    “Kim, I want you to listen to me,” he said, using the same tone he'd reserve for Emily whenever she was upset. “There are assholes all over the world. They'll use whatever problem they can find -- real or not -- and use it to bully others. He obviously had an axe to grind against America and decided to take it out on you, a girl whose only crime was being born in this country.”

    She nodded slowly.

    “This country has problems, huge problems. That I think we can freely admit, and we do. But taking it out on a random person is the wrong thing to do. It-it'd be like me taking my anger out on Adrian because in middle school, I was beat up by a black kid because I got too close to his girl for his liking. Like he thought I was about to make a pass on her or something.”

    “What does that-”

    “Just let me finish,” Kevin cut her off with a finger. “My point is: we're responsible for our own emotions. Even if we're angry at a country for actual issues, or think someone's getting too close to our lover, we're still responsible for our emotions and how we act on them. Mortimer clearly couldn't grasp this basic concept. I mean, my God, I know blind toddlers who can get that.”

    She chuckled, to his relief.

    “I may be Canadian, but I'm not your enemy, never was. Now let's go get smoothies.”

    Kimberly sniffled and smiled. “T-thanks. I . . . I'm sorry for-”

    Kevin gripped her shoulders. “Hey, hey, not your fault. It was the troll's fault; you didn't ask to get shit on by an xenophobic old hog. You're free to research whatever the hell you want: American history, Persian history, whatever. Now c'mon. We've got drinks with our names on it.”



    - - -



    “Everyone has pain, everyone has their own battles to fight. You, me, Adrian, that old couple way on the other side there, we all do. Some are greater than others, yeah, but we all have one, and mocking others just adds to that pain they have to deal with. And this isn't some ‘New Age’, twenty-first century talk; this is stuff Plato himself talked about thousands of years ago.”

    “Guess things don't change.”

    Kevin shook his head. “Not the core things, no.”

    “The other thing I just realized was that, with me and the kid, it was a one-time deal. After that little fight, I never saw him again. I'm not sure if he got transferred or expelled or something, but it wasn't relentless like yours was. He didn't make it his personal quest to make my life miserable over one girl.” He took a sip from his straw, then continued. “I think that's how the Hate Train keeps going.”

    “The ‘Hate Train’?” Kimberly laughed.

    “Bully someone enough times, and they just might give in to their anger to use a Star Wars term. After all, why try to be a decent person when it feels like half the world either is giving you actual shit, or is just standing there letting you get beat on?”

    “Even on a forum?”

    “Doesn't matter if it's real life or an online forum,” Kevin shook his head. “I've read of people who committed suicide because they were bullied online. The mechanism may be different, but there's still a human being hurt.”

    “It's just easier, I guess.”

    “It is,” Kevin agreed.

    He's supposed to be a college-aged, hearing-impaired football player transfer student from Canada, and here he is not bothered at all that she's basically just said, "I hate/fear all non-Americans, including you, because of what one person on an entirely different part of the globe did to me!!" Yes, he's very empathetic and sensitive to other people's feelings, but Christ, to this level?! I don't hear a college-aged kid, I hear Jesus. I hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Do you think any college-aged kid, no matter how kind he/she is, would say the things Kevin would say?

    That's my problem: I've these messages, these lessons I want to impart and what I'm doing is creating quasi-Jesus Christ sorts of characters to act as my mouth piece. Samula isn't the only 'Jesus Christ' in my fantasy who guides and teaches Mishu: Lord Gregreo Valmorn, a rich Alkorian, does the same exact thing. I don't stop to wonder if he has any personal bias or bigotry, no, the minute Mishu steps into his house, he's all "I will give unto thee, young one, life lessons!" Hell, he even has the double-whammy of: "Oh, you're an orphan? Then live with me, child. I will not consider the consequences of attempting to raise a handicapped Rejormi in an Alkorian-Skoviri household, in a country that hates your kind, and consider the scandal that would incur upon my adopting you. To the hells with that, come live with me. Because if I don't, I'm clearly a racist douchebag."

    It's a trio! I'm surprised I'm not having them get crucified on Mount Golgotha, die for our sins, and resurrect three days later. How do I impart these kinds of lessons without making them sound so preachy and archaic? How do I write empathetic, compassionate characters without making them appear almost to the level of Jesus Christ, or Gandhi?

    Help? I really like these characters, I really want to demonstrate the messages I want to tell in those stories, but I don't want them to be saints! I want them to sound real. Empathetic and understanding, but real. How can I do this without making them appear so godlike that it's insane? Am I just scared of seeing them as imperfect? Am I just scared that Gregreo might actually dislike Mishu and tell her to get the flork off his land? That Kevin might lose his shit when Kimberly basically lumps him in with the cyberbully? Am I just scared to see them as human beings with actual flaws that I might not like?
     
  2. Lifeline
    Offline

    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Messages:
    1,407
    Likes Received:
    1,561
    Location:
    UK - the place betwixt and between
    I was going to say, let them speak through their actions without compromising their principles ;)
    Of course, first you have to figure out these principles :D A character without principles is like the desert without the water..
     
    Link the Writer likes this.
  3. BrianIff
    Offline

    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2015
    Messages:
    1,294
    Likes Received:
    433
    Location:
    Canada
    Maybe I'd have to see more of the writing, but I don't think so. These kinds of characters exist, and I don't know if it's the fact that Samula is a bartender, but he reminds me of Guinan from TNG. I don't know, the INFP/whatever enneagram type that is noted for listening and empathy, the counsellor, iirc, is a commonplace and these examples just feel human and not ott-dovey or whatever. I mean, looking at it from the outside, what would you do if someone told you they were being bullied and they were truly hurt from it? Being simply angry isn't going to help much, as natural as that may be. I think you may be underestimating the teacher/listener/objective informer in all of us that wants to care but also teach to those who are in a helpless position. Based on the situations you've placed the characters, deeming them unnatural seems too quick a judgment.
     
    Oscar Leigh and Link the Writer like this.
  4. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Could you shorten those questions up @Link the Writer? It might help you to focus on what the key issue is.

    As far as giving advice in a tavern, the classic bartender who listens to customers comes to mind, so I don't have an issue with that.

    If they are sounding preachy, you are probably giving too much exposition, maybe dole it out in shorter chunks.
     
    Link the Writer likes this.
  5. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,984
    Likes Received:
    5,502
    How would you feel about putting this in the review room? I'm feeling the urge to point to specific things, and the whole package starts adding up to a review.

    But some things, specifically about the second piece, because the first is a little harder without context:

    - Kimberly is depicted as weak, confused, her feelings totally out of control, no firm thoughts or ideas about anything. She seems like a toddler. She is there as a blank canvas to be painted with Kevin's wisdom. She often doesn't even get her own paragraphs--she speaks inside paragraphs that are "owned" by Kevin (for example, the "Kevin recognized...remained silent..." paragraph.) If she had some strength and thoughts of her own, then Kevin would be less dominant in the scene. (Edited to clarify: By "thoughts of her own" I don't mean head-hopping, I mean that her dialogue could reflect some stronger thoughts and opinions.)

    - Similarly, why is the fact that she was online-bullied in this relatively non-threatening way a horrible secret? It feels rather as if you need Kimberly to be a pool of tears, but didn't want something really terrifying (say, an online death threat or stalking) so you have her overreacting.

    - I would suggest eliminating ALL of the narrative explanation/intrusion. It would be a good exercise, IMO, to force Kevin to paint himself with his own actions and words and thoughts, without the narrator there to guide us. By narrative explanation/intrustion, I mean things like:

    > his muscles tensing...
    > Kevin recognized...
    > Oh no . . .
    > All this to...
    > Kevin took...prior experience with online...vicious cycle...vulnerable...horrible secret
    > using the same tone he'd reserve for Emily whenever she was upset
    etcetera.

    I realize that the line between narrative intrusion and Kevin's thoughts is a fuzzy one. For example, "Kevin's jaw...wrap around...throttle...miserable son..." feels more like Kevin's actual thought, rather than narrative intrusion; It could stay. And some of the other fuzzy items could be thoughts rather than narrator explanations if Kevin were a highly experienced middle-aged psychologist. But given who he is, I read them as from the narrator.

    - For example, when she collapses into a puddle of tears at his feet (metaphorically), I would expect something closer to Oh, My God, A Girl Is Crying, why do they do that, I hate it when they do, that what do I do??! Make her stop crying, just make her stop, a joke! Let's tell a joke! Or maybe candy? Aaack!

    - Where's his indignation, even a little indignation, at Kim being afraid of him? He seems horrified that she hasn't recognized his saintliness, not indignant that she's juged him unfairly.

    - I do find the idea that deaf and blind children are inbred, and the fact that he went straight there even if he immediately says that he doesn't believe that, to be...odd. Seems like a really big crack in his saintliness.

    - Also, why does he have to volunteer for that school? Is there a plot reason? If not, why not eliminate some of his saintly activities?

    - On the other hand, him making a Big Point of it here does suggest some ego, which is a nice imperfection.

    - His measured, elderly preaching could be more of a rant. ("Well, he's an idiot. Did that ever occur to you?")

    - > “Just let me finish,” Kevin cut her off with a finger.
    Interesting. He is kind of bossy and controlling. :)
     
  6. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,220
    Likes Received:
    4,227
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    You're right, perhaps I'm underestimating the instinct we all have on some level to listen and teach. Samula, Kevin, and Gregreo are all fairly decent people; compassionate and understanding. My problem is that they all sound too preachy, even by their own standards. I'm injecting my own values into them rather than letting them say whatever it was they were going to say. Letting their own understanding of the world they live in control how they speak and act.

    If I think about Samula's character, for instance, he's a listener, he takes action; but not a good speaker. The stuff he was saying seems like something a priest, or Gregreo would say after much contemplation.

    As for Kevin, while I can definitely see him support his friend and tell her all that, I'm just not sure if it actually sounds like he's a college grad. :/

    I guess my main questions are:

    #1- They all sound the same. Samula's advice sounds like something Gregreo would say, not what Samula would say. Samula's more of an action-taker, he listens and acts more than talks. Almost to a fault.

    #2- I feel like I have trouble not putting these three on a pedestal. They're so nice, so damned empathetic that I guess I don't know how to give them flaws and/or motivations without making them look like a prick. I don't know how to tell myself, "Dude, it's OK if Gregreo doesn't want to adopt Mishu." or "Hey, shouldn't Kevin be a bit miffed that his friend's basically insulting him and lumping him into the same category as the cyber-bully?"

    BINGO! That's what I mean. They don't have agency. Kevin doesn't act like himself, he doesn't act like a real person. None of them act like realistic people, but rather my idealistic portrayal of how people should act. They don't act like how normal people in those kinds of situations would act. A bartender might not act like Samula would, and a college-aged dude would definitely not act like how Kevin acted here.

    I'll do the required reviewing, then post these two excerpts in the Review Room for your analysis. :D
     
  7. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,984
    Likes Received:
    5,502
    What happens if/when you try to fix that? Do you find yourself unable to figure out what they would do, or do you stop yourself and say, "But that doesn't convey my message!"

    If it's the second, then I would suggest forcing yourself to forget the message, completely and utterly, and write the scene. Start it as you started it--well, perhaps with less of a puddle of tears, maybe giving Kimberly some anger instead of having her try to lie as flat as she can--and write it while pushing the need to "message" as far away from you as you can.

    Then see what you've got.
     
  8. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,220
    Likes Received:
    4,227
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    It's a little of both, actually. :< Yeah, I'm gonna need to have those two excerpts examined... I'll do the required review, then notify you when I have them both up.
     
  9. Feo Takahari
    Offline

    Feo Takahari Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Messages:
    291
    Likes Received:
    270
    Location:
    Just above the treetops
    You seem to have a sharp division between characters who are victims and characters who help victims. In the second excerpt in particular, you readily embrace the concept of a bad victim, someone who did things "wrong" when responding to harm and carries psychological scars she's not "supposed" to have. Can you turn this around on the helpers, giving them some of the same flaws as the victims? (Perhaps one or more helpers have personal experience with being a "bad victim" and are now in a better place, so they can understand where your victims are coming from.)
     
    Link the Writer likes this.
  10. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,220
    Likes Received:
    4,227
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    Good idea. Maybe Kevin has an idea of what she felt like because he himself has been through it? So he just tells her, from his own experiences, what he's come up with? In a "Hey, I know how you feel, this is what I've done to cope with it"? That way it won't seem too preachy or imply that the characters in question are not allowed to have psychological scars.
     
  11. Penfist
    Offline

    Penfist Member

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2016
    Messages:
    45
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    Seattle
    This may not allay your concerns, but I believe it to be factual nevertheless. No matter how many Jesus-like characters you write, rest assured that their collective and individual attempts to impart wisdom will be misintrepreted. If not by the other characters you write, then certainly by any readers who happen upon these nuggets of gooey good thinking.

    I vote that you continue writing all your characters as Christlike as possible.

    Most saints die violently, historically speaking. If you want to delineate your characters from saints, just make sure they avoid falling into wood chippers, the torch and pitchfork mobs, and the like.
     
    Link the Writer likes this.
  12. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,220
    Likes Received:
    4,227
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    You just gave me an idea of how to kill off a pompous, egotistical villain... <writes down some notes>
     
    Penfist likes this.
  13. 123456789
    Offline

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,347
    Likes Received:
    3,092
    I don't see what the problem is. Russian novelists have used their characters as mouth pieces for their philosophies all the time. If you're going to preach, preach well, and hope you have something substantial to say.

    As far as creating a work of entertainment, well, that's when you want the pettiness to come in, the grudges, the jealousies, the spite, and all the other pathetic human qualities that create drama. It's really up to you about what you want to do. I prefer my characters nasty but maybe you're the next Dostoevsky.
     
    Penfist likes this.

Share This Page