Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Captain Consistent

     What do you like most about Captain America? That he happens to have Chris Evans' face? Well...yes, that's definitely an upside. However, the reason why Steve Rogers is such a lovable character is his personality. The epitome of what Americans (and people in general) should be, Steve Rogers is brave, selfless, kind, compassionate, and an all-around good guy. 

     Now, keeping that in mind, let's pause for a moment. Remember how in my last post, I talked about how you should let your characters stay consistent? Steve is a perfect example of that. When we first meet Mr. Rogers, he isn't considered great in any sense of the word. In fact, he's undersized, sickly, weak, and rather...ordinary. Despite all that, Steve stands up for what he knows is right. Although he does get into fights (that he badly loses, may I add), he is not a violent person by nature. When asked if he wants to kill Nazis, he adamantly replies, "I don't want to kill anyone. I don't like bullies; I don't care where they're from." He cares about justice prevailing, but he'd rather get that equality by peaceful means. He's also probably the most selfless person ever - he throws himself onto what he thinks is a real grenade to save his comrades, and he tells his best friend that he wants to join the war because "men are out there laying down their lives. I have no right to do any less." 

     In short, Steve is awesome. He sounds like the kind of main character you want, right? There's good reason for that. It's even better when he is scientifically altered to become all muscular and fast. Yeah, that's nice, but it's still the same Steve inside. He doesn't change; he's still as sweet, kind, and awkward as ever. He still does what he knows is right even if it means putting himself on the line. So, there's my first point:

Characters' personalities often do NOT drastically change. Steve was always an incredibly nice, polite gentleman - becoming Captain Amercia didn't change that. He didn't magically become arrogant and proud because he got taller and started wearing a red, white, and blue suit. 

However, over time, characters' personalities DO develop. As we all grow older, we gain more life experience that shapes who we are. We learn lessons that mold us. The same thing happens with characters. They may still have the same personality, but by the end of the book and/or series, they should've grown and expanded due to what they've experienced. Let's look at Percy Jackson (from Percy Jackson and The Olympians). He starts out as a dorky, troublesome outcast in The Lightning Thief. By the end of the fifth (and final) book in that series, he's matured into a slightly less dorky, skilled, and intelligent (albeit absentminded) young man. He's faced countless monsters, embarked on dangerous quests, and fought a war; of course he's changed a little bit! He's no longer twelve years old; he's grown up. It can be best explained as this: consistent is staying yourself, while developing is yourself growing.

There are some ways that you can get away with dramatically altering your character's identity. The biggest loophole is 'extreme circumstances or events". We're gonna go back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for this one. Here we have Bucky Barnes, best friend of the aforementioned Captain America. After being presumed dead, Bucky is captured by an enemy organization and tortured, brainwashed, and experimented on, shaping him into the Winter Soldier, a fierce assassin who has no regard for human life. Bucky and Bucky as the Winter Soldier are completely different. Pre-war, Bucky is shown as a happy, sarcastic, and charming young man who cares very deeply about the best friend that he sees as his little brother. On the other hand, the Winter Soldier is cold, calculating, deadly, and a merciless killer. So, how did Marvel succeed in completely redirecting his character and still keeping him essentially Bucky?

     Simple. They used extreme events to explain his change of personality. If you REALLY want to change a character's personality to something completely opposite, choose this road. For example, if someone is being controlled, is under the influence of magic (in a fantasy novel), has been tortured, brainwashed, or experimented on, there is a good chance that this will alter their personality and who they are. Other than that, remember to stay consistent and always develop your characters. No one wants a wildly fluctuating character, and no one wants a boring character who stays completely one-dimensional. 

     How are you developing your characters? Have you taken advantage of 'extreme events'? How does your character grow and mature in your book? I would love to hear about it!


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