In life we often act without thinking. We make rash decisions. We make mistakes. We do things that are in opposition to our nature. We are the embodiment of contradictions. We define ourselves in terms of likes and dislikes or capabilities and inabilities. We believe to be an expert in ourselves, our individuality worn as a badge of pride. We claim to have an intimate knowledge of ourselves- many proud of making a quest for self awareness. And yet how many of us may fully account for our actions? How many can say that their actions and their soul have always been in complete agreement?
However thoroughly we believe to understand ourselves and our actions, it cannot be denied that we are never in complete awareness or control of ourselves. Just as we cannot justify our behavior or align it with what we believe to be our firmly held convictions, neither can our characters. The goal of all authors is to make characters true to life. We know that their actions must be logical, and slowly reveal their personality over time. Yet in our quest for character development, we may get overly concerned with explaining each action, each mistake. A good character, like a lady, leaves a little something to the imagination.
Just at the point when your character thinks that they’ve got it all figured out- that is the moment that they inevitably are faced with a situation that will challenge their personal beliefs. At these times most characters stumble. They falter on their path and our readers may be disappointed in them, but it captivates them all the more. A character that makes mistakes is a character we can relate to. We rally behind them and hope that they will find their strength once more.
These characters may not understand why they are making these choices or what the consequences will be. Do not belabor the reasons. Do not psychoanalyze. Don’t try to justify these wrongs. Like as onlookers-a best friend, a relative- our readers can occasionally be more understanding of the subconscious reasons for our actions than we are ourselves.
Reading is not a passive entertainment. The mind enjoys searching for clues and piecing together the evidence to understand the personality of our characters. Their actions are a tangle that the mind wants to unravel. Readers enjoy the success of solving a puzzle and the rush of pride that comes with it. Keep them guessing.