Thursday, May 17, 2007
The Big Bad Wolf
by Bill Cameron
I don't believe in evil. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I don't believe in capital-E Evil. Eeee-ville. I don't subscribe to the notion that evil is some kind of malevolent force in the universe. On the flipside, I don't believe in Good either. I don't see the world in Manichean terms, as a struggle between the forces of Good and Evil. This doesn’t mean I don’t have a sense of right and wrong. It doesn’t mean I don’t judge actions. I like to believe I have strong ethical and moral sensibilities. But my own worldview doesn’t feature Good and Evil. And when it comes to human activity, I’m even a little hesitant to use lowercase good and evil to describe it.
The way I see the actions of people in the world is through the lenses of circumstance and response. We experience events in life and respond in our many and varied ways. Circumstances can shape our responses, though I don’t want to imply that I see us as deterministic beings incapable of making choices. But I do think some choices are harder than others, and that difficulty may be influenced by any number of factors, from social conditions, personal interest, and even our brain chemistries.
This is on my mind right now because I'm in the throes of character creation. Novel number three is in the development phase, and for me, that mostly means character development. Plot doesn’t happen until after I know who it’s happening to.
How I personally see the world obviously shapes the way I develop characters. I don’t see myself as creating villains and heros. Good guys and bad guys. I don’t even like to use those terms. Forced to differentiate, I may describe one or another as the protagonist or the antagonist, but even those terms include an implied judgment with which I’m not all that comfortable.
When I write, I see myself as channeling people. My hope is that I am creating them with honesty and integrity. I want them to be comprehensible and plausible. In Lost Dog, Peter is not the good guy and Jake is not the bad guy. Each is an expression of choices made in the context of his own circumstances. Each is a person, a human being, with his own social history, personal history -- his own brain chemistry. One does awful things, makes truly awful choices. The other, ultimately, makes choices that in a big picture Good v. Evil sense might fall -- loosely at least -- on the side of Good. But in many ways they’re not so different from each other. They differentiate through their choices. That’s what interests me about character. For me, that’s what character is.
Choices made in the context of life circumstances.
How about you? What do you look for in character, either when creating characters as a writer, or experiencing them as a reader?