Friday, May 20, 2011

Internal Consistency

Actually, I'm not going to be talking about molten chocolate lava cake, or even the softness of your internal organs.

I'm talking about your characters.

It's come up occasionally in my writing, or my crit partner's writing. Just yesterday, I was discussing the HBO series the Wire with some friends and we had a friendly argument. Was Ziggy's murderous breaking point in keeping with what his character? My friend and I thought not; our spouses disagreed.

Incongruous behavior. When you see it, you get a funny feeling. The "that's not right" sensation that throws the reality of that world into question.

Do your characters ever suffer from it? Have you ever read a passage in a book where you thought, "That kind of came out of nowhere, and it makes me not believe what's going on."

Thoughts?

44 comments:

Anne Gallagher said...

Sometimes yes, but even with people you know and love, sometimes they can throw you a curveball from out of nowhere too.

strawberry Princess said...

i think I had a lot of like that specially when it comes to moral issues...

salarsenッ said...

Yes. The inner flow of a character is just as important as the outer flow of the story. Sometimes, the inner is harder to hammer out. It takes a lot of rereads to attain a smooth thread.

Sarah said...

Yes--I think one reason an author might stray from that consistency is for the sake of convenience. When I sense that a character is doing something that doesn't quite fit, it's usually because that's what works for where the author wants the plot to go. It doesn't really "work", but the temptation is there.

Laura Pauling said...

It's harder to recognize it in my own writing b/c of course in my head it's totally rationalized. But inconsistency tends to stick out when I'm reading. Which is what having a beta is for!

lbdiamond said...

Yup! Though I try to eliminate inconsistencies. (Thanks to your help! ;) )

Liza said...

Okay, so am I the only one who is hungry for molten chocolate cake now? This is a great analogy. I'm still trying to get deep enough into my characters, so this issue hasn't come up...mostly because I don't know them well enough yet.

Meredith said...

Ugh, I hate when this happens in books or TV shows. I try my best to keep my characters consistent by building character profiles for all of them, but it can be so tough!

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I don't like people acting out of their charaterisic comfort zone, I've been through that with someone close recently and I wish he would change back to the loving respectful son he always have been.

Yvonne.

Christine Fonseca said...

You know me...all about authenticity. I think acting out of character is fine, as long as it feels authentic. As long as their is motivation for the behavior that makes sense. Great post/question!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Sometimes I have those moments in my writing. These inconsistencies are pointed out by others:editors and crit partners,

Btw...I just had a slice of that cake. Couldn't resist it ;)

Slamdunk said...

I have experienced that feeling while reading. At times I do a little research and find it is just me--that I did not know something and can actually learn from it.

B.E. Sanderson said...

I hope my characters are consistent. I try. The other day, I was reading a book and came across character inconsistency. It was totally jarring. I wish I could remember which book and what exactly threw me, but the memory fails.

Old Kitty said...

I guess it's ok if there is a reason/are reasons why the character acted in the wholly unexpected way than what's expected!I guess if the narrative is strong enough and the situation where the character who is acting out is not contrived, then I should think it's ok!

I hope my rambling makes sense!
Take care
x

D. U. Okonkwo said...

Great post! Yes, it's really important to keep a character IN CHARACTER. Not always easy to do, but it's so important. If you're writing about a tough character, if tragedy strikes, are they really going to run and hide? Of course not, that's not their character. Readers pick up on this s it's very important to be consistent.

And that's good writing.

Connie said...

I find that more in historical fiction, when a character's sensibilities/beliefs are modern. It drives me crazy, and if it's too much, I won't finish the book.

Angela Felsted said...

All the time, even in books that are published and thriving. There's this scene in THE DUFF where the main character kisses a guy that repulses her. It's a pivotal kiss which acts as catalyst for the plot. But I just could not picture it. Not when she'd gone on and on about how this guy gave her the creeps.

Bossy Betty said...

Still thinking about the cake....

Sometimes I've done so much work and revision on the story that the character's behavior makes sense to me but then I realize I have taken out some of the backstory needed for my reader to understand.

I really need some of that cake.....

notesfromnadir said...

Sometimes incongruous behavior can make your character, sometimes it doesn't. If it seems to be incongruous, go back & see if you can add or subtract something to change it.

Carolyn Abiad said...

I don't know - I love trickster characters and they are never quite what they seem. Although, you do know there's something going on because the author should be dropping clues...

Chris Phillips said...

I'm pretty sure I'm bad about this.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Cake!!!!!

I've had a CP tell me she can't see my mc doing something, but my other CP totally sees it happening. They're only minor points (teensy minor points). Nothing to freak out over. Fortunately the one who sees it happening also reads and writes YA. ;)

Rebecca Kiel said...

I was reading a fantastic book (which I will politely not name) and out of nowhere one of the characters suddenly was gravely ill. It didn't fit with the rest of this upbeat book and I felt somewhat betrayed by the author. Of course, i had to finish it to find out what happened. A shame. As a writer, this was a good experience to make sure I never do that.

Munk said...

As much as I love Madmen, at times I feel the writers take way too many liberties just to remain wacky.
It is difficult to analyze my own work for inconsistencies, but my beta readers have helped immensely.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Sometimes writers have a pre-ordained plot twist but the characters have grown into their own beings. When the plot twist no longer fits your characters' personalities, ditch the plot twist and step back, looking for another. As always, you have a thought-provoking post, Roland

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've tried so hard to stay consistent, because it bugs me when characters do something out of character. Feels so contrived.

Holly Ruggiero said...

You lured me here with cake and left me hanging...

Matthew MacNish said...

It happens, occasionally, but the beauty of YA is that young people's behavior really is that erratic.

M Pax said...

Yes. If it's a book in print, I'm usually done with it. My crit partners, I beg them to fix it.

Jennifer Hillier said...

For me, it's a fine line between writing a character that's realistic and writing a character that's cliche. I personally don't want to read about people who do exactly what I'd expect them to do - but how do we make them surprising yet believable? So tricky.

Leslie Rose said...

I love it when a character's decisions on their quests match who they are. When something happens contrary to that without good motivation or reason, I go nuts, and it takes me out of the story.

Alleged Author said...

So true. Sometimes we need to remember characterization needs to be consistent. Do we want a "surprise"? Heck, yeah! Can it be one that doesn't sound like the character at all? Heck, no! Throws the reader off.

Olga said...

You're absolutely right - very often, it happens that if a character does something you feel is not right, you no longer believe in this character. Or his unusual behaviour ought to be explained.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Mmm cake.

I try to make my characters consistent because I think it would be confusing as a reader to be thrown TOO big a curve ball.

Carol Kilgore said...

I have read a lot of books where that happens to some extent, but the most glaring to me was the ending of "The Horse Whisperer."

Heather said...

Mmmm, chocolate cake! I have read passages like that, in my own work in fact! It's a great thing to look out for and now I'll always think of cake when I find them! LOL!

Faith said...

I try really hard not to let this happen in my own work, but it's hard to see it when you're so close to your writing! I recently found it in a CP's work, though... tough macho man running from a monster suddenly starts crying. That was odd. However, with the right motivation added to the scene, it could work. I wonder if sometimes the writer just forgets to explain to the reader/audience WHY this seemingly random action occurred... it makes sense in the author's head, but we need to be shown the reasoning behind it.

Cold As Heaven said...

Hell yes, I do that all the time, possibly because I don't have the time to write frequently and in big potions.

Cold As Heaven

Joyce Lansky said...

At a writer's conference I was told to come up with something your character would never do, and then have them do it. This made for a more interesting character.

Joyce
http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

Beth said...

I've definitely noticed that, both in my own writing and in others'. But I usually don't notice it in my own until it's pointed out to me!

Nas Dean said...

Yes, it happens in nearly all the books. Out of nowhere something pops and it's like, "What! Where did this come from?"

But then I've also been told in writing workshops to have your character act out of ordinary, throw wrenches in their way, to make it more interesting.

LTM said...

YES! I try not to do it in my own writing... I hope I haven't. But I have noticed when I"m watchin a show or reading something and it seems like, "Whaa???"

Great point. Musn't do this. :D <3

Sari Webb said...

My current WIP is full of incongruous behaviour of my MC. She developed and my writing changed as I went. Now that I'm revising I'm trying to figure out who she really is, and make sure all her actions are in line with that.

Jonene Ficklin said...

Yes! My husband and I went to a movie last weekend, and discussed this very thing the whole way home. The movie had great potential, but was half-baked - and just like you said - the gooey center wasn't warm.

 
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