Saturday, August 27, 2011

Are Characters Kings or Pawns?

By Christine Thackeray

So, my twenty-three year old son convinced me that I had to read the wheel of time series. I have to admit I've been intrigued ever since Brandon Sanderson was contracted to finish the epic fantasy saga, and I at last gave in. At the expense of my laundry room and kitchen I've spent the last four days reading constantly. The story has been engaging and Jordan's vocabulary is thrilling, but I've had a few character issues that make me leary.

"The Eye of the World" begins with three rural boys driven from their homes on a great adventure. Each of the boys has unique interests and personalities. All three are led by a mysterious woman and her champion guardian. The story clips along until they split up and return together. For a time, when they reconnect in smaller groups, some of their motivations seem forced in order to continue the conflict. You'd think these childhood friends would be ecstatic to see each other, but they have petty issues, blown out of proportion. The resolve is clever, but my question continues- how important is it to have characters be true to their personality types? More than once I've been plotting a story and knew what I wanted my character to do but couldn't make it work realistically. With Robert Jordan he just does it and throws in enough magic dreams and Trolloc attacks that you totally forget you were frustrated with motivations.

When a character is not genuine, I get frustrated with the project and often stop reading. Like the horror movies where the babysitter hears a sound upstairs and goes into the attic to be killed. Yeah, right. Call 911, dummy. On the other hand, if the conflict isn't stepping up, like Heather said, I also lose interest. In the end, I suppose it is a matter of weighing cost and benefit. You can stretch a character to the bounds of believability if it's exciting enough, right??? As authors what do you think? As readers does it even bother you?


Caledonia Lass said...

Hmm...good question. I have to stick to my character's true nature. If something doesn't work, I have to find what does.
As an author and as a reader, it does bother me when the characters aren't true to themselves. I loved reading the first couple books of the Wheel of Time series, but the wait from the last book to the next in line (Right around when he got sick) took too long and I had moved on to other books. By the time the series continued, I had forgotten what the first ones were about and have not felt like picking it back up.
I will someday... just not today.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Excellent post.

Characters need to be true to themselves but just like real people they must be impacted by what the experience. Rand, Perrin, and Mat (not even getting into channeling, wolf, and dagger issues) have been through so much since they first fled the Two Rivers that they had to change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Motivations can change, too. We are who we are because of where we were when ...

But Jordan did go a little crazy with some of his side stories. The last three books he wrote really picked up, imho, and Sanderson's done a great job with the last books. Like with Harry Potter, what's amazing is going back and reading the series (or at least Eye of the World) and seeing just how much was foreshadowed in that first book.

Abby said...

Hello from a new follower! Yes, it drives me crazy when the character isn't believable or their actions aren't believable! I don't want to read something like that or write a character like that. It's fun to test the limits of your character but not by making them an idiot (like the babysitter going to the attic thing.) :)

GoletaGlenns said...

I had the same problem with Eye of the World- I was never even able to finish it. I just didn't care about those characters- they didn't seem real. On the other hand, I could watch great, real characters sit around and watch the proverbial paint dry.

BTW- Have you read Patrick Rothfuss' fantasy Name of the Wind? Talk about great characters!

Madeleine said...

I agree if the character doesn't ring true it is really off putting. For women characters are more important I think while action seems all important for men.

Trisha said...

I've read all of WoT to date - it's a very detailed and rich world, and a lot of RJ's criticism has been that he puts in TOO much detail. But personally I think it makes it easier to visualise what I'm reading about.

As for character continuity, I haven't really ever thought about that in the series before. I will say that as the books progress, certain characters go through some seriously dramatic changes. It's pretty amazing!