I’ve seen a few memes around about characters misbehaving, and characters being raised well but defying their author parent. This is true. Characters do take on a life of their own. They behave how they behave because it’s who they are. It takes an open mind to accept this concept. Developing characters has been likened to madness. You are taking advice from imaginary people that you created in your own head. They talk how they talk, act how they act, and do what they do, because it’s who they are. Just like you and me.
Some authors will tell you that it takes a lot of work to create a character. It involves research, and character trait charts, and all sorts of complicated things. Other authors will tell you that their characters just come to them and they are how they are. I’m fortunate enough to be in the latter category.
When people act “out of character”, other people become concerned. They think ‘that just isn’t like him’ or ‘I wonder what’s up with her’ or ‘why did they do that?’ or simply ‘that’s so out of character’. If an author knows their character, which they should (better than anyone) then there would be a reason that their character misbehaves, just like there would be with anyone who was acting odd. But people can learn, people can grow, people can become a better version of themselves. The fact is that people’s issues with characters is usually based on their own morals, ethics and experiences.
The main character in the Ruthless Beings series, Amethyst, is perceived differently by different people (as are most of my characters), and I find this very interesting. She has been called a flake, naive ‘to the point I want to slap her’, strong, amazing, someone to look up, stupid, brilliant, and resilient. Maybe she’s all of these things at different times, or maybe she’s weaker than you or more naive than you are or stronger than you are, therefore she fits the label. Maybe you’re comparing her to yourself or people you know. (Beth, on the other hand, has only ever been referred to in negative terms.)
The main character in Pocketed has been referred to as strong, weak, charming, immature, mentally impaired, good-natured, a pushover, endearing and simple. Is he? You tell me. The main character in Underliner is apparently wearing labels for being an alpha male, immature, blunt, sex-crazed, a sex-bot, unlikeable, sexy, sweet, spoiled, oafish and brave. Yet, he’s standing still.
My conclusion? What makes a character who they are is their life experience, but what makes your perception of the character is yours.
(See my post “Oops, my labels fell off” for further thoughts on labels.)