Monday, September 10, 2007


We as readers will either demean or romanticize a character in our heads based on our very individualized impressions of said character no matter whether the writer envisioned the character the same way or not. I'm sure that for every fictional character ever created, there is a reader somewhere who, if they were to meet that character on the street in flesh and blood and living color, would say, "I thought you'd be taller."

I've recently had the chance to see this dichotomy from two different perspectives. The first was as the writer. For example, I found my main character (MC) to be completely sympathetic, and everything she did made sense to me. However, aside from the aforementioned skimpy emotional layer, one of my crit partners had some trouble with my MC when I made her less of a skeptic about magic. Seems like every time this particular crit partner tries to write fantasy, one or more of her characters ends up with a blaster gun instead of a wand. The lady is very down-to-earth, practical, and of a scientific bent. Her characters' magic usually takes the form of advanced tech, rather than actual mysticism. So she wasn't prepared for my character to accept the magic in my story as quickly as she did. She'd have rather seen my MC cling to her skepticism longer. My other crit partner tended to see one of my secondary characters as more of a jerk than I'd intended him to be. She even wanted me to change his language in a couple of places to make him meaner. If I'd done so, he'd have become closer to her image of him, but he wouldn't be the guy I envision him as. As always, I value the ladies' opinions very much and will alter details if I think the change is important to clarify or improve the plot or characters. But ultimately, the characters have to be who I need them to be for plot purposes, whether they completely fit a reader's ideal image of them or not.

From the reader's perspective, I've been lurking on a couple of other authors' message boards, and I've watched threads that ranged from heated discussions to out-and-out flame wars because the readers/posters had differing opinions on character motivations and personality traits. And many's the time I've heard someone say, "My gosh, that character's blond? I pictured him as having dark hair." We all do this type of thing. As readers, we just can't help ourselves. We form our impressions of the characters and then often cling to them despite what their fans, detractors, and even authors perceive them as. In short, it's the same way we form our impressions of friends, neighbors, and strangers. And then eventually a curious thing happens. Readers sort of "adopt" their perception of a character, so even if they hear that the character's creator sees him/her differently, readers will often continue to nurse their own vision of that character, as if in a sense, the character has somehow become theirs.

I think the tricky thing for a writer is to let go of the character and accept that your readers will read all sorts of traits into the character that you never meant to put there. And as a reader, it may be equally as tricky when you learn that the author never really liked your favorite character as much as you did, or that he or she in fact adores the one you love to hate. If anything, it makes me want to strive to be even more open-minded as a reader while still retaining my right to like or dislike another person's character as I see fit. And as a writer, I'll write them, dress them up and send them out the door knowing that someone somewhere is going to fall in love with my villain or hate my heroine's lover's guts.

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