I’m reading How Novels Work by John Mullan at the moment and totally enjoying having a look at some critical literature. It’s probably the first thing that isn’t straight fiction (or non fiction that have nothing to do with writing) that I’ve read in the last year and a half and it’s nice to be reminded of a bunch of conventions as well as introduced to a few that are new to me.
One section sent my mind wandering for sure, and that was the one on character. I mean, when did ‘having character’ turn into a vague, ill defined insult? back in the day, being a man of character was a seal of approval. Now it suggests that the gentleman is more likely to be boorish or lacking in charm in some way and that this character is the only excuse for such behaviour.
Character used to be an accepted public construct for everyone, and not one created by writers. Instead it was built by the individual and finely tuned to ensure that they had presented the best face to the world. Now such an idea is considered disingenuous – just look at the backlash for so called celebs who aren’t into the whole warts and all coverage so many folks are demanding.
Now character is supposed to represent the most personal, the most essential interior of someone. Not only that, but as an interior that is fixed and not malleable, asserting the idea that ‘you can do all you will for someone, but you can’t change their character.’
Everyone has a public construct though, so how can you determine which of these is their true ‘character’? The one everyone sees or the one that is hidden? And does that mean that the best fiction is the type that can create a believable balance between the two?