I’ve been pondering this idea for awhile, and my blog friends Jay and Brizzlelass both touched on it recently: Believability of characters.
Do characters in fiction need to be believable?
I struggle with this concept for a variety of reasons. First off, what is believable? In the purposes of fiction writing, how do we define believable? Is it when a character acts like the majority of people would in any given situation? And if that is the answer, then what about the people who are in the minority of a situation? Is their story not worth being told because they are not the “norm”? But more to the point, isn’t the story of the person in the minority the one worth telling? Isn’t the story of the character who is outside the box the one that is more interesting? To write something where everyone behaves “normally” is not really a story.
Now that I’m in my second writing class, I have noticed that many people fictionalize real events from personal experience. I think this is cathartic and interesting. What’s wrong with retelling personal experience? Nothing, except the fact that a bunch of readers will say “This would never happen in real life”. And the person who wrote the story is saying “Yes it could happen cause it did. Character X actually said that. Character Y actually did that.” Is truth not believable? Are we uncomfortable reading about how people actually treat one another? Does the reality of humans really make us want to become an ostrich?
Here’s my take. I am fine with something not being believable if it makes sense with how the character has been described. I will base my decision based on how the particular character has been portrayed. A main character often shows a change throughout the course of a work- I think of it more as, did the way this character changed from beginning to end make sense. Based on what the author has provided us, does it seem plausible. See, that’s where I think the difference it: has an author written the bones of a character where what the character says and does make sense. To me it’s not a particular conversation or event: it’s the character from page one to page 250. Does the arc of a character and the characters development make sense. Do interactions between characters make sense based on what is given to us, not based on any preconceived notions we bring into the book.
I know you’re now having a hard time believing what I wrote because it makes no sense…
To completely screw up your minds, let’s think about the popularity of dystopian books. Are people drawn to writing this genre simply because they think they can write totally bizarre things and no one will question it, because, after all, it’s DYSTOPIAN. It this just a way to get around people saying “That character would never say that”? Is it a way to get around people saying “That’s not believable?”
And what about the people who say something is predictable. If you make your characters “believable” to the norm, wouldn’t the situations play out “predictably”? Would there all of a sudden be a twist? Believable leads to predictable.
So my literate friends: what do you think?
To believe or not to believe. That is the question.
And does it matter?