On Character and Characters

Last post I described my Scout Law Project and promised to shed some light on why I was doing it. The overwhelming justification is for me to examine base principles and to practice writing about them. Two items I am particularly interested in exploring are Character and Framework. Today’s article is on Character. Hope you like it!

cambodia road stop

On the Character of Characters

Think of every piece of fiction that you have ever loved. No matter the genre or subject, I’ll be they all have one thing in common; great, wonderful and believable characters. Characters that are distinct, illustrative, and alive. Characters that leap off the page and into your heart. Characters that once you are finished with that book you are sad to leave but will remember forever.

Reread that last sentence. “Characters that … you are sad to leave but will remember forever.” Now, think of your closest friends. The line between characters in fiction and your greatest friends is a fine one, isn’t it. Chances are you like, love, and respect your friends that reflect the virtues you yourself hold most dear. It’s very much the same with the characters we enjoy in our reading, isn’t it?

What if we turn that lense upon ourselves? Realizing what is true for us may be true for our friends, take the thought from the other perspective. What do your friends value in you? Why are they friends with you? What does that tell you about them? What does that tell you about you?

Character makes Great Characters

Whether our friends are found in paperback or in the flesh-and-blood, it’s their character that draws us in. I discovered this both with my failed attempt at writing a long-thought-of novel and over a lifetime of friendships. The people I love and respect most in my life, or my readings have very defined senses of self. So well defined that their stances on, well, anything are inimitable and could only be theirs and theirs alone. For example, if I asked any of them to free-associate on any number of things, I would receive personalized statements that reflect their own personal character.

For example, how many times have you ever called a friend just to find his or her particular take on an issue because you knew it would be insightful or hilarious, or poignant or whatever – just so absolutely them? How many times have your friends contacted you for just the same thing?

As a quick example, take any set of criteria (political hot button issues, questions of faith, the US Bill of Rights, the Ten Commandments, etc) and any set of interesting, memorable people and you will come up with very distinct and interesting answers. Even if you didn’t agree with their views, I’d bet you’d understand their responses as a natural conclusion of who they are.

If qualities summed up in character can define great friendships so can they too define great characters on a page. Look again at the example in the previous paragraph but this time consider the characters in your favorite books. See if you can map them against some philosophical framework.

For laughs, let me use the example of the characters from Lord of the Rings. I’d bet that Samwise, Legolas, Gandalf and Gimli would interpret different portions of the Scout Law very differently. I bet their answers would change depending where they were in the narrative. I’d also bet their would be common threads between them. Those common threads, the reader could rationalize, would form the foundations of their relationship. As an aspiring author I can tell you that it is those individualistic answers that form a litmus test for believable, interesting characters and that common thread the story arch.

I believe the same is true in our own personal lives and relationships. Well-defined positions reasoned well past the point of ‘I don’t know’ and ‘just because’ to their fundamental, irreducable elements create interesting people. The juxtaposition of values – be them shared, at cross purposes with, or antiethical to – create the story arcs of our lives. There is no history, but the interactions of people.

Over the next few weeks as I explore the characteristics Trustworthy, Loyal, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Brave, clean, and Reverent I’ll ask you to do the same. What is the nature of these terms? Think about what these concepts mean to you. What do you think it means to others in your lives or to the characters you read about? What do you think they believe these characteristics mean to you? What do the differences and the similarities indicate? Next week I’ll share some thoughts on framework. Thanks for reading!

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