Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Characters Who Surprise Us

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

30538661_ebc4d149a3For my daughter’s entire life, I’ve watched with amusement as people have made the mistake of judging her by her appearance.

She’s diminutive, doll-like in many ways.  Very odd, since I’m 5’10” and don’t have many memories of the brief time I was small.  But my daughter is frequently mistaken for a second grader, although she’s in middle school.

People don’t expect is how tough she is.  She knows her own mind…and speaks it.  She can certainly take care of herself.  And I wouldn’t advise calling her cute.

I think that’s one aspect that makes my daughter interesting—that dichotomy between her appearance and her personality.  She’s a surprise. 

Characters who surprise readers are also interesting…and provide realism in a story. 
Ways that characters can surprise readers:

Characters who pretend to be different than they actually are. Common in mysteries, but useful in other genres, too.  We can all play nice for short periods of time, can’t we?  The opposite is true, too—the person who plays the tough guy, but is actually very sensitive or timid.

Characters who change during the course of the story.  Directly related to plot events, these characters change for a variety of different reasons: death of someone close to them, change of health, change of circumstance, change of marital status.  Might be a good idea to see those changes happen gradually to a character…but if it is abrupt, it needs to be believable. 

Characters who differ from what their physical appearance suggests (see above.) This could encompass a Napoleon complex…someone who has a particular personality as a result of their appearance or size. 

Characters who experience a change of heart.  Sometimes I’ll see this in films where the bad guy has the opportunity to save the good guy (usually when the good guy is hanging off the side of a cliff.)   Again, there’s got to be something there in the plot to make the readers believe this abrupt change of heart.  Has the protagonist saved the antagonist in the past?  What’s the backstory here?

What other ways can characters surprise us?  Which ways are your favorites to read or write?

Image: Flickr: A. Currell