Thursday, March 28, 2019


Evelyn Waugh made a statement to the effect that we can not really understand a character, can not give a full three-dimensional life to her or him. Rather, we can view him from a couple different vantage points to get a better picture of who the character is. This is not so unlike what we do in real life, is it? We come away with a few images and extrapolate the rest.

This is why I am not big on delving into a character’s ‘psychology.’ We can’t know, truly, the motivations and thoughts. We guess at them from the evidence. This is even true in a ‘deep’ point of view, or when we write in first person. The character involved may have no clearer understanding of himself than any other observer. Every narrator is faulty. Every narrator is unreliable.

So what is the writer to do? Show what one can and allow the reader to make what he will of it. Try to be realistic in those views of the characters, from those different vantage points. Know that almost every character is conflicted in some way and may not stay true to type. They are all walking a fence and might fall off on either side. Most of all, do not try to explain everything. It will end up sounding pat and shallow — simplistic when life and people are complex.

Do keep looking at them from different perspectives. It is always possible to see something new. We should not fear this, thinking it will destroy this character we have created. What we have created was not complete. It never will be.

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