1. BrighterNexus
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    BrighterNexus Member

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    The importance of consistent character interactions.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by BrighterNexus, Oct 11, 2011.

    I've had a lot of thoughts about this, myself, but I discussed this with a couple of friends of mine recently, and I thought I might post this here to get other's thoughts of it.

    The question that I was asked is 'How important is it to keep characters consistently in character throughout every scene they are in?' The topic also related to how to portray a character as acting rather... out-of-character, and how to present a character as if they are acting unlike themselves without being overt about it.

    My thoughts on the matter is that keeping a character consistently in-character is important for several reasons- chiefly among them is that it helps to establish the character in the audience's mind, but also because having a character act out-of-character makes the character very unpredictable to the reader, which can lead to the reader being annoyed because the outcome seems as if it came out of left field.

    So, what are your thoughts on the importance of keeping a character consistently in-character, and how would you portray a character as acting if the story called for them to act out-of-character?
     
  2. suddenly BANSHEES
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    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    If your character acts out-of-character, it should be for a very good reason - for example, someone who's generally level-headed might lose their cool if they were in great danger, or a person who is a huge pushover might suddenly stand up for themselves if pushed far enough.

    Generally, though, characters should have a few set personality traits that they stick to in every scene they're in. Not that they should only have one mood (readers shouldn't have to remember your characters as "the grumpy one", "the peppy one", or "the quiet one"), but if characters seem to do or say things for no reason, they won't seem very realistic, and it might get hard to keep track of who is who.

    I'm not sure what you mean by stories calling for characters to act out-of-character - it's kind of a vague question.
     
  3. BrighterNexus
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    BrighterNexus Member

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    Well, to give an example, one of my friends is writing a story, and one of the plot elements calls for the characters to act as if they were... well, it's hard to describe, but it calls for the most identifiable traits of several characters to be played up at the expense of most of the rest of their characters- for example, the protagonist (a very snippy girl) is suddenly very easily frustrated and snaps at people for very minor offences, and the witch girl with a knack for 'borrowing' things is suddenly a full-blown kleptomaniac that steals everything in sight. (The reason this is called for is that the characters are not actually the characters themselves- they're a monster residing in the subconscious of another girl, trying to take physical form and borrowing from her perception of the characters in order to pretend to be them, resulting in the exaggeration of their traits).

    What I'm asking about is, how would you think to portray your characters in situations like this? Would you be subtle about it, or would you be blatant, or would you take a middle path? Of course, I recognize that the above situation is not the only way situations like these could crop up, so I would be interested in hearing how people would handle a character necessarily acting out of character in many different situations.

    There is also the question, of course, of how a character may act if there are unrevealed parts of their backstory that cause them to act differently then you would expect them to (this mostly applies in longer-running serial fiction, I think), and how that would affect the audience- what confusion may that cause, and how far could you press it before they lose interest? Should you leave some of it up for inference, or spell it out, or what?

    I realize my questions may be vague, so you can interpret them as you may :p
     
  4. suddenly BANSHEES
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    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    Sounds interesting :)

    How subtle you go with it depends on what kind of story it is - for some reason, when I first read about the monsters, it sounded to me like something that would happen in a children's story, in which case you might want to exaggerate them to the point of being comical. Or, if it's meant to be scary, start of very subtly, and have the weirdness slowly build up as other characters start to notice that something's up. If it's somewhere in between, you could play up the exaggerated traits just enough to be noticed, but not overly so.

    As for the backstory thing, I can't think of many instances where something that happened in a characters' past would suddenly change the way they act in the present. Peoples' experiences shape their personalities, and effect how they deal with or perceive things - if they went through something strong enough to shift their character, that would probably stick with them, not go away and suddenly reappear out of nowhere. The only exception I can think of is if a generally brave character were to have an intense phobia of something specific due to a past trauma. Maybe they usually act all tough and fearless, but as soon as that one thing shows up, they run and hide under their bed.

    Not sure if those're the answers you were looking for, but I hope it helps some~
     
  5. BrighterNexus
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    BrighterNexus Member

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    I would suggest to him that he makes it more childlike than scary, but he wants it to be a horror story, so I'm encouraging him to be more subtle about it. He's not exactly sure how to go about it, though, so what I've suggested he do is write scenes set around similar situations, with people interacting with other similar monsters and/or the characters meeting up with the monsters impersonating them. I'm hoping it works for him, but he's a lazy sod sometimes and doesn't get to work :| (Of course, I am not much better there, so I don't have much room to talk...)

    As to the other comment: There are several things I can think of- most notable, would be either a trauma, a sudden shock, or a buried memory. It would have to be something very specific, I imagine- for example, a child who lived in an abusive situation may act loud a lot of the time, but if presented with someone acting violent towards him, may revert very quickly to a much shyer persona, hoping to draw no attention to themselves for fear of being harmed, and may not return to their previous state unless coaxed from the resulting shell; or else the ages-old technique of revealing that something the character has done in the past, either something they are very proud of or very ashamed of, had very different results they had imagined, which would affect the character's psyche in many subtle ways beyond the resulting depression/jubilation.

    I suppose I'm not really looking for answers here though. I'm just... discussing, I guess :p
     
  6. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    No such thing as 'out of character' action. If the character loses it over something and perhaps gets violent, that trait is not 'new'. It was always there, and is now just becoming visible.

    Characters are spectrums of emotions and actions.
     
  7. NikkiNoodle
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    NikkiNoodle Active Member

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    I agree with Jack. People, even created ones, are amazingly complex. What we call "out of character" means only something we wouldn't expect based on what we know of someone. There is always more.
     
  8. BrighterNexus
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    BrighterNexus Member

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    Gah this site takes way too long to load

    JackElliot: I disagree. There are definitely ways to have a character act out of character. This is one realm where foreshadowing needs to be done well, so as to avoid things coming out of nowhere and causing your characters to act against their previously established characterization (if a character has been hinted at to have a bad past, then it's no surprise if they turn out to be violent if they come up against a child abuser; if, however, no hints have been laid out about that for six books, and then suddenly in the seventh your character punches a child molester in the face and turns all angsty, then most would consider that out of character).

    For example, consider if... I have no examples of my own, so let's say that a writer decided to turn Mister Rogers into a psychopathic mass murderer. You would agree that that would violate his previous characterization, yes?
     
  9. Jack Mackerel
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    Jack Mackerel New Member

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    Firstly, I'm the lazy sod/friend in question. :V

    Secondly: I'd have to disagree, really. While it MAY not be OOC for a character to be snapped to a breaking point, suddenly having a proven-in-canon-to-be-hugely-nice turn into a raging, grumpy hosebeast would definitely be. I was trying to invoke a sense of OOC, actually - anyone familiar with the characters would immediately notice something was OOC, but the problem was making it clear it's for story purposes and not "the author is an idiot who cannot write" (however that may be true).

    The series I'm writing said story for is well known for its fans running with their own canon and interpretations (despite the series having established canon and personalities), but even then, I try to stay somewhat true to canon with my own interpretations.
     
  10. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    See, I dislike the way character is used here. It is made to sound like character is a straight-jacket of emotions and actions, and it's not. Characters are fictional people, and the best ones are those who closely mimic the complex and varied nature of human beings. Acting 'out of character' is the author's failure. He has not set up his character in a way that certain actions would seem credible. Maybe he doesn't want to; that is okay.
     
  11. BrighterNexus
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    BrighterNexus Member

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    > See, I dislike the way character is used here. It is made to sound like character is a straight-jacket of emotions and actions, and it's not. Characters are fictional people, and the best ones are those who closely mimic the complex and varied nature of human beings. Acting 'out of character' is the author's failure. He has not set up his character in a way that certain actions would seem credible. Maybe he doesn't want to; that is okay.

    No, characters are, essentially, words on a screen. The character's actions, thoughts, and everything else about them, are dictated by the author.

    In an in-universe perspective, characters are, indeed, fictional people. However, from an out-of-universe perspective, they are what the author says they are; and an author does not necessarily have to stick to characterization like real people do.
     
  12. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    I think, at this point, this is a discussion over semantics. We all know what the OP meant by "out of character"; there's no need to avoid the question so we can get philosophical.

    I don't have much advice, but if a characer is acting out of character, then there should be some explanation either before or shortly after for why that character went from emotion A to emotion B. Would this be out of character then? Maybe not, since we see the character only in a different set of circumstances, not a different set of traits. But it's outside of what we know.

    suddenly BANSHEES gave some good examples in post 2 of getting from emotion A to B.
     
  13. ralphy
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    ralphy New Member

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    Whenever I've debated the out of character topic with myself, I tend to go back to the situation, and what causes or what is happening at the time the character goes 'out of character'. Usually, the causing/catalyst situation is just as important as how the character is OOC, if not more important. Whatever happens has to be strong or impacting enough to move a character in such a way. So, in this topic, I'm concerned with three things: Who/How, What, Why. Loosely used, of course.

    Who > Who is acting out of character, and how they are acting OOC.
    What > What causes this character to act OOC.
    Why > Goes maybe hand-in-hand with What, and is maybe some piece of the character's backstory or experiences that kind of fuels or pushes said character over the edge in the What situation.
     
  14. immaturegirl91
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    immaturegirl91 New Member

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    well... it depends if it's a fanfiction character, a borrowed character or if it's an original character you created
    I would be careful with making certain characters from cannon OOC.... like Naruto suddenly hating ramen is just plain weird, UNLESS you can explain it an extremely Naruto-like way to make him hate ramen forever after (like he died from eating ramen in one life, came back and suddenly hated it lol)

    as for original characters, the thing is you never really know them until you play around with them (you should have done this and known just about every aspect of your character before even publishing or making your story public)

    ways to play with a character (smirk)

    put them in a variety of scenarios: would they survive the zombie apocalypse even if your main story is about stupid high school romance? would they be a fighter and learn to adapt to war and being a soldier if they were forced to? if they met hitler, what would they do? if they were forced to choose between saving their girlfriend or mother, who would they choose? what would happen if you gave them a button that could destroy the world in sixty seconds? make up out of the ordinary scenarios in your head and imagine what they'll do. as you do this, you get to understand what sort of character you want to create.

    imagine their entire story and more so, their thought processes, values, judgements, flaws, ESPECIALLY their flaws....etc. ask yourself what this person values and if those values correlate with their actions and their goals in life...etc. and more importantly, what are they willing to sacrifice for said goals?

    the only reason a person would be OOC is if something strange happens: like their dog died... a usually happy person should of course be sad and a usually stoic person might lose her or his facade for a day

    your original question: How important is it to keep characters consistently in character throughout every scene they are in

    it depends on your goal: do you want your character to grow or not (physically, mentally, and emotionally)? if you start with a 5 year and end up with a 40 year old man, I'm expecting some inconsistency from the last page to the first page. the goal of writing is not to make a point but to make your readers have questions and be unable to answer said question, basically to think about why what happened and what is the answer to this question(s) the book makes me ask myself? to be able to do this, there must be development in your characters or else the reader will only get a basic theme/message, which is sort of not the point because then it doesn't usually make the readers think beyond just the simple message. the best way to put it, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    you have to know how to be both consistent and develop/change your character(s) with time, if you don't, your story falls flat or ends up weird because let's admit it, character driven stories are often the best stories
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually, I didn't initially understand what she meant. I thought that she might be asking one of two quite different questions:

    - How important is it to keep a character's behavior the same throughout most of the action of the book? This suggests that most people behave in a stable and consistent manner. I would say that many people don't, and creating unrealistically stable and consistent characters is not necessarily a good thing. There are plenty of volatile people, and drama queens, and manipulative people who change their behavior depending on the situation, and leaving these people out would be boring.

    - How important is it to keep a character's behavior realistic, based on that character's personality, as opposed to forcing the character's behavior in an unrealistic direction to move the story along? I would say that forcing a character into unrealistic behavior is pretty much always a bad idea. If the plot requires that a character act "out of character" in the sense of behavior that that character would _not_ engage in, then the plot should be changed.

    ChickenFreak
     
  16. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I would do it as realistic as possible. Research people that act like that in real life. You want your book to be believable.
     
  17. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I don't agree with this. People by nature have their own unique personalities.
     
  18. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    I think there are two issues here: fictional characters [FC] vs. people in reality [PIR].

    PIR are never 'in character', because they're allowed to shift attitude at the drop of a hat. It's our expectations of people, based on previous information, that makes something look 'out of character', but we rarely know what goes on inside PIR, unless you're clairvoyant. With FC you can have internal dialogue explain the action to make sure the FC doesn't act 'Out-Of-Character'.

    FC are constructs to serve a certain purpose, and we make them multi-faceted to reflect PIR. If we don't make them multi-faceted enough, people will compain about stock or cardboard characters with limited personality traits, but the opposite is also true - if we make them too multi-faceted, the reader will have trouble immersing themselves in the character because they cannot 'predict' where the story is going. So, in short order, FC need to be multi-faceted, but not unpredictable like PIR.

    PIR are rarely the same from one situation to the next: the tough CEO can be a pushover dad at home, easily manipulated by his five-year old daughter. If you do the same with your FC, i.e. let the FC show different facets of their personality in different situations, you don't run the risk of Out-Of-Character reactions, because you prepare the audience that there's more to the FC than previously perceived.
     

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