Admit it – we joke about being ‘normal.’ If we stopped to think about it, and be honest, we’re have to admit we behave rationally only part of the time; the rest of the time we take ridiculous risks and at times behave in ways we can’t explain.
So what could that comment possibly have to do with writing? Our readers should not have to work too hard to suspend disbelief. Simply, our stories need to be believable. It has everything to do with a character’s motivation. The dilemma we have then? If you create characters who behave totally ‘normal’ all the time, you’ll produce a flat, boring, lifeless book.
So what is the key? Characters with flaws are actually something we can relate to or even understand. Yep, it’s back to that simple comment, ‘nobody is perfect.’
Would you agree that love and of course let’s add sex – makes people behave illogical, unreasonable, foolish, crazy, ridiculous, absurd, silly, etc? Even I prefer the day-whiskered cowboy who makes a fun-fool of himself after too many beers, over the pin-striped suit guy with perfect teeth and not a hair out of place who won’t let go and have fun. I prefer the belly laugh over the carefully controlled, polite laugh in a hand.
You must instill a strong enough motivating factor—even an irrational one—so you can interject a plausible reason for erratic actions on the part of your characters. And let’s face it, those characters are far more appealing and exciting to read about than those who are behaving rationally.
Also keep in mind that you can create several twisting sub-plots when you give your characters obsessions, quirks, issues, eccentricities, peculiarities, habits, characteristics, features — by chance or not—that can act as a thread through the story.
Consider someone who is infatuated girls who wear cowboy hats, and can become single-mindedly so, leading to horrible errors in judgment. Control freaks turn narcissistic and are prone to making fatal decisions:
“Come on, Jordan, we can catch the mountain lion’s trail in the morning. It’s dangerous tracking her at night.”
“Shut the hell up! I’m the best tracker in these parts day or night. No mountain lion is getting the best of me!”
What follows is that the obsessed character must either find favor (or be forced to it), or reject change and stick with their fixated, self-serving life to the end. Either way, it does make for powerful and gripping storytelling.
You don’t need a degree in psychology to incorporate the obsessed or strange side of human nature in your books. All it takes is a little unpredictability.
Choose which of your characters is the weakest—which one believably has issues. Which one are you scared to deal with?
Now, give this character the devil’s advocate workout and determine what characteristics will add dimension to the story. Let’s say your character is obsessive about being the last one entering a room for a meeting – he likes the all-eyes entrance and the power it gives him.
OK: We expect this from him and now this character becomes more interesting, and we have a certain expectation he will never be early . . . and we have a certain inkling . . . a sort of uh-oh: What’s going to happen when suddenly a lot is riding on him being somewhere on time—or someone might be shot? This kind of situation does two things; it makes a character stronger as a gripping ruse, and it makes him more haunting or memorable.
A character’s weirdness or quirks can be the one thing that keeps your readers speculating to the end. It can keep them captivated, riveted, enthralled, mesmerized, transfixed, as they attempt to unravel and conceive theories. Who knows, they might not even notice your awkward character—but they will get a feeling that for some strange reason, this character just seems ‘normal’ with all his imperfections.