Writers, Stop Changing Hats

 

by Christopher Slater

Last weekend was a really busy one for me. I started out the day as a mover, taking heavy totes and boxes from one location to another. I quickly shifted to being a soldier during the Vietnam War era. After about 90 minutes I became an MP in WWII patrolling a hanger. Four hours later I was fighting in a nearby field. Two hours after that I was a civilian eating in an Italian restaurant. I repeated the process on Sunday. To say the least, I was worn out by the time I got home Sunday night.

Obviously, one person cannot be all of these things in reality. I was at a reenacting event in which I had to play several roles. It was exhausting for me and a little confusing for some of the people that saw me throughout the day.

The problem is that I have read many stories, including by some best selling authors, that seem to have characters like this. Their personalities seem to jump around in a haphazard, almost unpredictable fashion. The characters are always exactly what the situation in the story calls for, but how many people do you know in reality that mold themselves perfectly into the events of the moment? It is confusing for the reader.

Be aware of this as you write. It is easy to make your character be exactly what you need when you need it, but does that pull the character out of the realm of plausibility? If so, you may be wearing your readers out by having your characters wear too many hats, helmets, or hairstyles.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Christopher Slater. Christopher is a Middle School History teacher in Tennessee. He’s also a husband, father, and author.

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9 thoughts on “Writers, Stop Changing Hats”

  1. Good point! Its amazing how rarely the differences between characters and real people are discussed. Sure, the characters probably would adjust in their reality to the situation, but the motivations behind each of the roles they adopt would have to be discussed or at least clarified earlier on. Excellent post! Thank you for writing!

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  2. This is definitely one of my bigger pet peeves as a reader. Sometimes it feels like a character has no purpose other than to fill a role in the plot, which can be alright, if the character is a background character, but when a character actually turns on a dime and transforms solely for the sake of the plot, yeah, I really don’t care for that. One of the most engaging aspects of a story is how the events of the narrative put the character in difficult situations, forcing them to debate between their own aims, and the needs of the situation, before reaching an accord. If the character doesn’t have a will of their own then there is no meaning in the story.

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  3. Great post and one of my pet hates. My wife watches a particular Soap Opera and the amount of times I see characters behave totally out of character to fit the storyline is unbelievable. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Similar hats on different characters is also confusing. Then, there are names. For crying out loud, if you have a nickname then stop with that. I got bogged down in a book, where on two pages there were nicknames and names and proper names for two characters. I had to go back to the index of characters to figure out I was reading a dialogue! I was lucky there was an index—-

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  5. An excellent point. As a reader, I find it frustrating when a fictional character just happens to have every necessary quality, skill and experience to take on every possible obstacle. As a writer, I work hard not to fall into this trap. A character’s flaws can make them even more captivating than their abilities. Great post 🙂

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