Exploring versus Judging Character

One of the curious conundrums I’ve experienced as a book editor is encountering characters that the author clearly has contempt for but expects readers to be interested in engaging with.

Contempt is as poisonous in writing as it is in relationships.

The goal of the author should not be to judge character but to explore character. The reader can judge.

One of the reasons this contempt happens, or seems to happen, is when authors view characters as tokens to be moved around on a backdrop—chess pieces, as it were, having rules of engagement but no volition.

In other words, Beatrice does not murder the blackmailer Malcolm because that is the type of thing Beatrice would do when threatened with exposure, but because the author needs a dead body on the floor. Action then becomes motivated by the author’s need to check off a plot point on their outline rather than as something integral to the character.

The most important question we can ask in helping authors develop characters is: “Would this character really do/think/say this thing right now?”

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