|Everybody’s A Genius! Not...||| Print ||
|Saturday, 05 November 2011 04:40|
Using Character Knowledge Appropriately
The amount and nature of information possessed by the characters is an essential element to storytelling. It’s important to pay attention to what your characters know, why they know it, how they learned it, and whether or not that knowledge is sensible.
Think about why your characters know what they know. The character’s background defines them and defines what they understand and can do. It’s important to make sure there is a good reason that a character can do, say, or understand anything. Not everyone has time to be a polymath, one kind of wisdom does not guarantee another, and realistic people have realistic limits to their understanding.
Beware of character knowledge that will seem tacked-on or disproportionate to the amount of effort they spent acquiring it. When you build a characters background to excuse their knowledge of various subjects, make sure you integrate it thoroughly. A character may have once met an interesting Norwegian, even spent time with them, but that does not qualify them as an expert on all things Norway. Dating a deaf person does not guarantee fluency in ASL.
Consider how easy or difficult it would be to get information. Sometimes valuable information just falls into your lap, but a lot of times you have to hunt and peck amongst a lot of extraneous data to get the right answers. If information is hard to get, make the character work for it. If it’s easy to get, don’t leave your character ignorant just because you don’t want them to know.
Knowledge is not always perfect or reliable. In reality it can be enormously difficult to tell the difference between good information and bad. Eyewitnesses are terrible and rarely really know what they saw; sometimes perfectly rational-sounding answers can be entirely false. A character may think they know something important and could very well be completely wrong, and the world is polluted beyond recognition with purveyors of falsehood. Do not be afraid to let your characters remain in the dark, or operate under misconceptions and draw the wrong conclusions. Bad information is out there, so use it, and hang on for the ride.
Be wary of too-frequent bursts of inspiration allowing someone to draw the correct conclusion without sufficient evidence. You also want to look out for the correct conclusion being found out thanks to contrived little tidbits that only one person happened to notice or piece together. It’s a common ploy, but sometimes those little game-changers can be downright silly or require outrageously specialized knowledge.
Keep an eye on your coincidence-meter. Are they getting it right too frequently or undeservedly? Or, if they are making mistakes and blundering, why have they succeeded? Too much coincidence robs the character's success of believability as well as accomplishment.
A conversation that would never actually happen is a poor vehicle for exposition, because it is illogical and breaks the reader’s rapport. Just because a character HAS information, it does not necessarily follow that they will explain it in detail for your convenience. Try to avoid "As you all know..." discussions meant to summarize for the reader's benefit, or the ever-popular trope of eavesdropping upon detailed, necessary information. Both are unnatural and incongruous.
By keeping track of what your characters know and making that knowledge realistic and dynamic, you create much more thorough, believable people for your reader to interact with and get to know. It is extremely important that your characters be real and not just executing a specific plot-driving function.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 08:31|