A couple years ago, I was sitting and writing when I heard my daughter yell at the anime she was watching, “That’s not a character, that’s a fucking plot device!”
I can’t even tell you guys how proud I was.
So. Fucking. Proud.
Now, there are a lot of things that I’d consider the worst in characterization, but they’re all kind of connected to the idea of a character being a plot device rather than an full-fledged character.
So, to me, the worst is a character that exists solely to move the plot in the desired direction or to illustrate a point about another character.
For instance, all the women who swoon over the hero. When those characters exist solely to swoon, they’re not actual characters. They’re a shorthand method of letting the reader know that, yes indeed, everyone wants some of that sweet, sweet hero peen.
Then there are the characters that are there solely to move the plot forward. Now, I’m not talking about the victim in the kidnapping that the heroines have to work together to find, or an incidental character like a cop who shows up at the scene of the accident where the hero and heroine meet. It wouldn’t be realistic if the cop didn’t show up.
I’m thinking more of the characters that show up in a super contrived way that propels the plot forward. The rando vendor at a traveling faire who randomly gifts the heroine with a locket that sends her back in time. Or the renowned psychiatrist who just happens to be riding the subway and is coincidentally having a loud conversation about one of his clients, but that overheard information gives the hero the insight he needs to find the serial killer before he murders the other hero.
Character as plot device can also be an established character who suddenly starts behaving in a completely contrary manner, with little to no motivation, that goes against what the author has established. Like, lets say the author has a hero who’s kinda shy, doesn’t like crowds, and doesn’t like getting physical. But the author wants the hero to meet and then rescue the heroine at an underground MMA fight club. (Is fight redundant there? Asking for a friend who knows jack about MMA.) Anyway, if the author has established the hero’s aforementioned traits, it’s not going to make any sense at all, for the hero to suddenly decide that he’s got a hankering to get all sweaty and fighty because the author decided that this would be the best meet cute ever.
If the author really wants to get this shy, crowd and fight-avoiding hero to this underground fight club, they’re gonna have to think of a different way to do it. He’s going to need sufficient motivation to leave his comfort zone. Like, maybe his brother is thinking of getting involved and the hero goes to wherever one goes for MMA action to talk his brother out of it. And while he’s there, he sees the heroine and hates the way she’s being treated, so he tries to get her out of there, too. Both methods achieve the same ends, but one is a plot device, and one is plot. The difference is consistent characterization and realistic motivation.
Now, the best characterization, in my opinion, is a depiction of a fully realized person–someone who’s got good qualities as well as flaws. Someone who grows and changes during the course of the story while still staying true to the the character the author established. And finally, someone who’s got emotional depth who’s also someone the reader can connect with and empathize with. That’s the kind of characterization I’m looking for.
That’s it for me, today. Be sure to check out Jess’ post, too!