There's no end
to the things you might know, depending how far beyond Zebra you go! {Dr. Seuss}

Friday, February 25, 2011

Out of Character

Original image here.

When I’m hungry, I turn into a grumpy, irritable, toddler-like monster. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad. But when my tummy starts growling, I start growling.
Last weekend my husband and I went out and about for the afternoon, and we stopped for dinner at 5:00 at a Pizzeria Uno. While waiting for our appetizer, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since the s’mores Pop-Tart I had at 10:00 that morning. When I mentioned this to hubby, his eyes lit up and he said, “Whoa. And you were pleasant all day. That’s really out of character for you!”
Hahaha. Anyway, so I’ve been thinking about characters being “out of character” all week. It brought to mind something my college friend Donny wrote on his fabulously fun blog Sexy Trash (Check it out if you like both the trashiness and classiness of Hollywood, celebrities, movies, television, and music!): In the post 14 Television Couples We Love, he mentions that the “we were on a break” situation between Ross and Rachel on Friends was completely out of character for Ross. I’ve always thought so, too. Friends is my favorite show, but I never like watching those few episodes in season 3. It annoys me to no end that the show made Ross do that. 
There are two other television shows (see the comments!) my mom and I used to watch together that eventually spiraled into something we hardly recognized. The characters were written all wrong. We eventually stopped watching, and we weren’t the only ones losing interest. Both shows were cancelled the season after we stopped watching because of a sharp decline in ratings. 
However, in reality a person does act completely out of character sometimes and shocks those who thought they knew him best. How many times have you seen a news interview in which people express their surprise that an unassuming, helpful neighbor committed a crime? Or know someone who has always hoarded their money but then donates to a good cause? People surprise each other all the time with their “out of character” actions and behavior. So when is it okay to write your own character like this? 
Original image here.
While Ross’ situation has probably happened in real life, we have to remember that we’re writing fiction. It’s art. The trick is to write a developed, well-rounded character prone to mistakes with the ability to rise above those mistakes while remembering there’s an audience out there completely invested in our characters. If we write something that’s too much out of character, it might lose the reader’s interest and believability in the story. 
What are your thoughts on writing “out of character” moments in your novel?
Have a wonderful weekend, zigzaggers!!!


Sexy Trash said...

What 2 other shows did you stop watching because the characters changed!? I'm curious! :)

Laura Marcella said...

Hey, Donny!

I didn't mention them because then I would've had to explain why and it would've made the post too long! So it's good I'm putting it in the comments :)

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (I know, dorky, but I love it! Sully is so hot!). It's good through season 4, then the fifth season gets sooooo depressing. Happy characters suddenly get divorced and want to commit suicide and it's all complete nonsense. The family-friendly show turned into a soap opera. It was cancelled after season six, which didn't even have as many episodes.

The other was Gilmore Girls. I used to love that show, but I hated it when Lorelai doesn't accept Rory's decision to take a break from Yale. Obvs she wouldn't approve, but not speaking to her daughter at all? Not cool. And then the whole thing with Luke not telling Lorelai about his daughter and them breaking up because of it. Sure, it could happen in real life, but for the purposes of a fun show, it was LAAAAME!

Haha, so there it is! I hope people click on the link to your blog!!!

Miss you!


Melissa said...

DUDE GILMORE GIRLS HAD A TERRIBLE LAST TWO SEASONS! (I was curious too and read your reply to sexy trash!)

I hate that Ross did that as well. It's a hard line to balance between making characters develop and change without making them into someone else and having them act to out of can't do that in fiction because people won't believe it.

Excellent post!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Since my books are so character-driven, I'm really conscious of staying in character. (And recommend Personality Plus for a good starting foundation for personality and character traits.) They might stretch a bit, but it's not a radical difference or it's a change that's developed over time.

Laura Pauling said...

I think our characters are allowed to do almost anything if we show the proper motivation and thought processes behind it. I think if we don't have them act out of character then something is off!

Bluestocking said...

Usually if my characters act out of character, it is because I didn't do enough to foreshadow their decisions or add in enough motivation for them to behave the way they do.

TV is a different animal -- with so many people producers, directors, and a rotating roster of writers, it's probably way harder to keep things consistent.

Happy friday!

Julie Musil said...

When a character does something out of character, if there's motivation for it, it makes sense. Some of my favorite plot twists happen this way. But yes, if it's way out of whack, it won't work

Matthew Rush said...

I suppose that when my characters overcome some seemingly insurmountable task it's a bit out of character, but my hope is that it will show how they've grown. I guess that doesn't count then. Hmm?

Summer Ross said...

think staying in character works best. LOL though if they jump out of character for a good reason that has been explained to the reader- I don't think that is bad, because a character is flawed too .

Raquel Byrnes said...

The only time I do that sort of thing is when my character pulls a Han Solo...a rogue that comes through unexpectedly. It makes me feel good to write that.

Tana Adams said...

Heading to sexy trash. =)

Laura Marcella said...

Melissa- Yay, I'm glad you saw that. I edited my post to direct people to the comments in case they want to know the shows I'm talking about. :)

L.Diane- Thanks for suggestion! I'll have to check it out.

Laura- I agree about the motivation thing. There has to be some kind of clues or foreshadowing so when they act out of character, it's surprising but believable.

Bluestocking- Exactly. There has to be some kind of reason for acting the way they do. I understand about the writers changing around and stuff...but if was my show, I'd want to be more careful about things so I don't lose viewers!

Julie- Exactly. That's a great point!

Matthew- As long as there is some kind of motivation or foreshadowing to it then it makes sense!

Summer- I agree. As a reader, and viewer, I like surprises but I want it to be believable, too.

Raquel- Love Han Solo! I like reading about them too.

Tana- I hope you like my friend's awesome blog!

Rachna Chhabria said...

If there is a strong motivation, then characters are allowed to behave "out of character". Else it makes no sense, or we can assume they are just having a bad day.

Medeia Sharif said...

When a character isn't fleshed out or there's no explanation to them acting out of character, then I don't care for them acting different.

I love how a character changes from the beginning to end as they grow and become stronger, and then I truly appreciate them acting out of character.

Indigo said...

I think a character acting out of character, is a reality check in a book. As long as there are circumstances explaining to some degree why a character changed.

The common rule to remember is for every action, there is a reaction. If you just insert a personality change without any underlining reasons, it leaves things disjointed. (Hugs)Indigo

Jemi Fraser said...

I do have a scene where a mild mannered character really loses it - but I think (Hope!!!) I've given her a really good reason for it. It was fun building up to it anyway :)

Laura Marcella said...

Rachna- Or you can assume maybe the author wasn't quote sure where the story was going!

Medeia- I agree. There needs to be some clues the reader can go back and think, ooo right that's why she/he acted this way.

Indigo- I remember reading about that in a Donald Maass book! He stressed the importance of every action having a reaction.

Jemi- I'm sure you have! You're aware of it, so I'm sure you know what you're going!

Clarissa Draper said...

I love this post! I with you on this, I think it's stupid when writers suddenly change the characters for some unknown reason. I hate it on TV and I hate it in books. I hope that doesn't ever happen to my characters.

Laura Marcella said...

Clarissa- I hate it when that happens too! Since you're aware of it, I'm sure you won't let that happen to your characters!