Character Development

…looking over your shoulder

In my Welcome post, I let you know that some of my favorite quotes are about the writing life. Today, I want to look at one of those quotes, and see how it affects both the writer and their readers.

“The story…must be a conflict, and specifically, a conflict between the forces of good and evil within a single person.”…Maxwell Anderson

Who among us hasn’t turned our heads to see sitting atop our shoulders a haloed cherub on one side, and mischievous sprite on the other? I can only speak for myself, but I know in my life I have shown great goodness and I have also done things that are unforgivable. I’m sure there are people out there who have never done things that compare with my worst, and I’m not saying that makes them boring or one dimensional…but they probably wouldn’t be my first choice to pattern a character after either.

As a reader, I’m not going to gravitate toward a character who is either all good or pure evil.

When it comes to evil characters, it’s more important to me that I understand what makes them do what they do instead of some miraculous moment of redemption.

One example that comes to mind is Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series. Draco is obviously horrible. He torments Harry and his friends religously…but he’s been spoon-fed hate by his father and constantly threatened by Voldemort, and so it’s easy to understand why he does what he does. He is young, impressionable and a coward. But by the end of the series, he starts to think for himself and we get the impression that he is capable of changing.

Two of my favorite characters are Scarlet O’Hara and Holly Golightly. These women cause pain and bring joy to everyone around them – and we love them. Why? Because we watch them suffer and then succeed. We watch as they make the worst possible choices and suffer the consequences, and we watch them grow and sometimes reap success – but they’re never ensured a happy ending and that feels like real life.

Who are some characters you can think of that are either so good or so bad, that we end up just not caring about them at all?

6 thoughts on “…looking over your shoulder”

  1. Hi Tristin…thanks for the response.
    Good example. And thinking about it, there are probably more examples from movies than books. While books and movies are a favorite escape of mine, I don’t usually want a ‘mindless’ book to read – but…sometimes a mindless movie is just what is called for!
    Thanks for taking the time to respond

  2. One character I know of qualifies, and it comes from a film rather than a book – but a screenplay is also writing, so in my mind it qualifies. That character is Hans Gruber from the movie Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis as NYPD officer John McClane and Alan Rickman as the villain, Hans Gruber.

    Hans Gruber is diabolical. He is cold, cunning, ruthless, remorseless, and he carries out his plan with clockwork precision and efficiency, giving no thought to the well-being of anyone other than himself. Even his cohorts are deemed expendable, despite his affection for them. There is nothing good about the character and his irredeemable quality makes you cheer on the hero all the more.

    The shallow, two-dimensional characters are perfect entertainment for when you don’t want to think, or analyze, or delve into such interesting and compelling themes as character motivation or story themes. There is no higher meaning. It is a simple good vs. evil story and good and evil are both easy to spot, and easy to cheer for and against. Mindless fun, and a ‘too-good-to-be-true’ hero and an irreconcilably devious villain, written and acted so well that you can believe in this impossible hero and loathe the equally impossible villain.

    So, yes, it’s two-dimensional and yes, it’s shallow. But this is gratuitous violence written so well that even while breaking all the rules typical of good writing, it rises above the normal limitations of the genre to become gratuitous violence at its very best.

  3. Absolutely…after reading your first comment, I started talking to my daugher (14) about it…because when I wrote the post, I had thought about Voldermort and tried to think of any redeeming qualities or a reason why he was the way he was. I think most people react to events in their life – i don’t think many are ‘born’ evil…She thought however that he was pretty much pure evil – so interesting how depending on where people are in their lives we may see things differently, or start to understand more of the “why’s” behind a person’s behavior! Thanks for the conversation.


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