I worry a little bit about creating my characters. It stresses me a little less in a short story. I can let them explode out on the page and usually build the dimensions I need in a short space. In longer works, I stress a little more. I typically end up with a bigger cast. I want them all to want something. Even if some of them are working toward similar goals, I want them to be different and speak differently – act differently. I want them to be realistic, but sometimes what makes characters real is difficult to sell on the page.
I wrote a post on social media earlier about my struggle to write realistic, flawed characters. Flawed characters are interesting characters. This is because all people are broken in small and big ways to varying degrees. We recognize this on some under layer of our minds where we occasionally find the capacity for empathy. This is why well written flaws make the best, most interesting characters in writing.
There are two important flaws that all people have, but we hate in others on such a deep level that they are difficult to write well because people want to hate them and reject them in characters on the page too. All people are hypocrites, but we despise the revelation of hypocrisy in those around us. None of us live up to our own ideals. All of us have beliefs that we aspire to and fall very short of. We hide this in ourselves and that is the formula for hypocrisy that we all carry in our emotional chemistry.
The other universal flaw is even more difficult for me to write well. We all seek to point out the good to be found within us while at the same time tuning our senses and minds to identify the bad in others and the world around us. Sometimes we do it to try to improve our own good through a grading curve, sometimes we do it because we think we can battle that bad and win, and sometimes we don’t even realize we are doing it. A realistic character would possess both these flaws, but it is a real work of art to write a judgmental hypocrite that people will like.
A friend of mine brought up the point of depression being a factor that negates people finding the good in themselves. I would argue that while we still all probably hate things about ourselves, we’ll still gloss those things over in a moment of expressing our relative virtues or in comparing ourselves to greater evils in the world. I explained it in that discussion like this. Depression isn’t experienced the same by all people. Lots of people, depressed or otherwise, can still hate themselves and hate things about themselves and their lives. At the same time, they’ll still have the “us and them” categories. A depressed Democrat will still see their beliefs as good and Republican beliefs as evil or vice versa –same thing with religious and non religious.
Feeling bad about one’s self does not exempt someone from this inward versus outward tendency. On the page in particular, self hatred is probably best portrayed as a great disappointment the character feels for not having achieved what he or she feels is deserved from individual destiny. The manifestation of that then is seeking to right that perceived wrong through playing out those two universal flaws mentioned above.
If done well, these characters would appear wildly unique on the page, but in reality they would be intimately familiar because they would be exactly like all of us. Maybe this is a bit much to try to achieve in a zombie story, but I don’t think so. The humans really should have a few more dimensions than the zombies do, I think. The unique aspect would be in selling these characters with the flaws that we are not willing to see within ourselves. If I figure out how to do this, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Dead Song Legend Dodecology Book 1: January from Milwaukee to Muscle Shoals
Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He has a Masters Degree in education and he taught public school for sixteen years before becoming a full time writer. He is the author of many short stories including work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5, Zombies More Recent Dead, Shadows Over Mainstreet, and Truth or Dare. He is the author of the Dead Song Legend Dodecology and the music of the five song soundtrack recorded as if by the characters within the world of the novel The Sound May Suffer. He also wrote the novels Loose Ends and Time Eaters. He is one of the four authors behind the Hellmouth trilogy. Jay Wilburn is a regular columnist with Dark Moon Digest. Follow his many dark thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Periscope as @AmongTheZombies, his Facebook author page, and atJayWilburn.com
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The stench of frozen flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Winter of Zombie Blog Tour 2015, with 40+ of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of November.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser…and pick up some great swag as well!
Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them!