March 03, 2008

Characters - Part 2: The Kobe Bryant Syndrome

Everyone has his or her own definition of a great character, and I’m willing to bet that the things we love or hate in fictional people aren’t a whole lot different from the things we love and hate about our friends, co-workers, and associates. Not everyone is going to appreciate the same character.

This represents what I call “The Kobe Bryant Syndrome.” Let me first apologize to all of those who don’t like basketball (or sports in general). Bear with me just for one minute. Ask someone who’s passionate about basketball what they think of Kobe Bryant, and with a few exceptions you’re going to hear one of two responses:

“Best player in basketball, maybe the best ever. Great work effort, fierce competitor, he’s the guy I want on my team. Championship caliber.”

“Selfish. Not team player. Arrogant. Sure, he can score a billion points, but scoring a billion points doesn’t win championships. I wouldn’t want him on my team. I’ll take a team player, like LeBron.”

We all have things we appreciate about characters and things that we don’t. I don’t know why, but I’m sure it has something to do with Freud and our self-esteem and whatever else. Ultimately, at the end of the day, we weigh the good and bad and make our decision. Like? Love? Hate? Indifferent?

What traits do you like in a character? What traits or behaviors make you cringe? What examples from the stories you write, read, or watch could you share with us?


Sherer said...

Long live Le Bron James

Anonymous said...

I am very turned off by arrogant characters in stories, which makes sense because I also don't appreciate arrogance from people around me.

I think most of us also tend to dislike characters that display traits we don't like about ourselves. For instance, if we dislike a particular hypocritical character, it's probably because he/she mirrors something about ourselves that we don't want to acknowledge.

J Sherer said...

Very true. Sometimes the things we hate about other people are things that we hate about ourselves. It's interesting that the writer, in some ways, turns into a psychologist as he or she writes. Suddenly we're analyzing people and situations. Fortunately, we don't have to interpret those same people. That would make me crazy.

When I write, I generally don't find a lot of my friends in the characters. More often, I tend to find myself, which is also an interesting component of writing. We know ourselves best, and we either love or hate different aspects of ourselves. Sometimes, the things we love become the traits of our "heroes" while the things we detest become the traits of our "villains."

But, all of those things are vital to characters. If something in our lives drives emotion in us, it's our job as writers to allow our readers to relive that emotion.

As readers, we respond to true, life-like situations. They have to be plausible, even if they're fanciful.

Great insights!