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The ultimate why

August 23, 2013

Joe Moore writes an intriguing post on The Killzone in which he talks about the difference between want and need. In the final analysis, he says, that while Dorothy wants to go home in The Wizard of Oz, she needs to learn to appreciate what she already has. It’s a well-made point by Joe and a good lesson for all of us.

It talks about deeper meaning in our characters. In a recent IM to a friend, I typed the words I’m irrational like that. Her perception of what I’d done was that it was completely irrational. From my point of view, it wasn’t irrational. To eliminate the double-negative, I’m rational. I suspect most irrational people think they are at the time.

It’s just that they look irrational because you don’t understand what’s going on in their head. Having been one of them, you probably don’t want to understand it, either. Except when one of them is one of your characters, then you need to understand it.

For instance, let’s say your protagonist is deeply in love with a wonderful woman after a life of betray and distrust. And let’s say things are going well with him and the love of his life. They’re going so well, in fact, that she starts hinting around about marriage. He decided to take the plunge. He follows through and gets engaged.

And then almost immediately, he cheats on her.

Why? Why would someone do that who has everything they want in the palm of their hand? Why would they fritter it away so easily? All he had to do was keep his fly zipped and he’d be married to someone who makes him insanely happy?

Except that he’s been betrayed before. All he knows is distrust, and though he’s making the right noises and he really does love the woman he’s proposed to, he also fears the hurt that will come when she (inevitably) figures out that he’s not worth of her affection and kicks him to the curb.

It’s a completely irrational approach to love. It’s stupid. It’s selfish. It’s self-defeating. It probably irritates God on a multitudes of levels, but if you’re in your character’s mind, the last thing it is, is irrational.

And it’s okay for a character to be irrational, as long as the line of thought is visible to the reader.

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