We are all two sides of the same coin. I’ve always believed this. Which is why, I supposed, I try to write characters who are not only interesting, but who are more than single snapshots of what a person is. It isn’t so much for my own benefit, but for everyone reading. I was always the kid who would try her hardest to find the good in the villain, and shades of gray in the hero. (Surely the Wicked Witch can't be all bad! Those Munchkins probably had it coming!) Characters who come across as consistently kind, or sweet, or evil are less believable than a flying monkey.
There are several characters in literature that I find picture perfect images of both light and dark. Mr. Darcy (haughty yet inherently good). Lucy Honeychurch (The sweet, gentle liar). And perhaps the most famous three-dimensional character of the last half century, Severus Snape, whose true soul is revealed only in his final moments. (It may just be my opinion, but I’ve always thought good ol’ J.K. Rowling proved her indisputable genius in that chapter.)
And then an idea occurred to me. For first time readers, each new character is a blank slate. We meet them, we analyze them, we learn who they are along the way. And in the end, we cast our decisions based on what we know. But what did the author know? Did he or she capably write their character? Did they come across in the way they’d anticipated?
So I sat down and thought. And I ate a bagel. But mostly I thought. Had I managed to portray my characters on paper the same way I saw them in my mind? It’s easy, I suppose, to get too close to something. These characters have been the focus of my thoughts for years now. So was it possible for me to step back and assess whether or not they came across as I’d planned? Is Billie a damaged force of nature? Is her goodness as prevalent as her selfishness? Did Tucker’s temper get in the way of anyone seeing his determination and heart? Was Ford seen as both broken and clever, or perhaps just weak?
I suppose I have no choice but to leave it up to the reader. Maybe they will see something I couldn’t. I might view my characters in a way that no one else does, but there is no way to unlearn something you already know. If there was, I’d definitely get rid of the mountains of trivia and movie quotes I have crowding my brain and make room for something a bit more useful. But for now I guess I will just try my best to write the crazy, fictional people I have grown to care about in a way that shows them for who they really are. The writer has to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, and perhaps, if at all possible, do her best to not over-analyze. Piece of cake, right?
…aaaaand now I want cake.