All characters, from, well, anything; movies, T’V, novels, graphic novels, video games, etc., require a kernel of consistency. Characters need to remain uniform throughout the tale. This, however, does not mean they must be static; unchanging. It definitely doesn’t mean that they have to be one dimensional.
Take Batman…Ok, not the Adam West Batman, but the Dark Knight, he’s rigid, brooding, curt, but when Alfred’s around, he softens up a little. When Catwoman’s around, he get’s a little distracted.
Now, Batman has been around for a really long time, and there are many variations, though they are all very similar, and this character is very well developed. Regardless, I like to see how the author, or creator, or whoever it is, manipulates the world, the supporting characters, and the villains to force an unpredictable reaction from the main character. The writer doesn’t make his protagonist do or say something unexpected, he/she forces it in a very natural, almost subversive fashion.
This wasn’t something I even conceptualized until recently…well, fairly recently as compared to length of my writing career. Right now, for instance, I’m in the middle of cleaning up a story, one that’s been available for free for a while, Losing Human.
Or, you can wait a little while because, as I said, I’m cleaning it up for a short story compilation I’m going to be releasing in print soon.
Anyway, here’s my case in point with the protagonist, Dr. Heisler.
“Project Human is your pet. You asked for Dekker, Jenkins, and Schlessinger. Your goal was…,” he turned to his computer while speaking. “To help the human race break beyond its limitations by way of harnessing the power of time.”
“I recall what I wrote,” Heisler snipped.
“Via advanced MRC’s people can one day leave behind their old, damaged, or diseased bodies, and walk amongst us with a renewed passion for life, and learning,” Kessler continued unabashed.
“That’s still my goal. Nothing’s changed. We all knew problems were going to arise. Even solar energy-,” Heisler argued.
“Enough, Doctor,” Kessler interjected. “It isn’t the program I’m having problems with.”
“I know. I understand. I should’ve allowed Dekker to shut Franklin off. I’m sorry that I lost sight of…,” Heisler trailed off, and staring blankly for an awkwardly long moment, he grew angry. “No. I’m not sorry. I knew what I was doing, and I’d do it again. You’ve got to crack eggs to make an omelet, no? No one was injured. Nothing was broken…I fail to understand why everyone is against me.”
Kessler’s mouth twitched. Luckily, the others entered before he exploded on Heisler. Awkward glances prevailed then everyone took seats.
“Doctor Heisler, here is not making a good case,” Kessler started. “Regardless, head of finances has decided to withdraw the bulk of its resources from Project Human-.”
“Doctor Kessler,” Dekker pleaded.
“It’s out of my hands, gentlemen, but listen, and listen attentively. There’s still some money in the budget. If you can work with what you have, reformulate some of your…methods, and produce usable results, I may be able to push for consideration when the next fiscal year comes around,” Kessler explained.
“There’s plenty for us to do, really,” Jenkins said optimistically.
Kessler shot a glance over to Heisler. He smirked in reply.
“All right everyone, let’s go plan this out,” Heisler announced. “Kessler…thanks for your time.”
So, Heisler a rigid, non-feeling, intellectual tin-man as portrayed throughout most of the story, is forced to act a little differently when his friend Johnny enters the picture.
“Because we’re all different. Different outlooks, different professions, different likes…versatility, Johnny. Versatility. We don’t need to be around one another. There’s no…emotional attachment. We work on a project. Then we move on,” Heisler explained. “Like animals. They don’t look for each other to, to…go and hang out. They just live. A dog doesn’t get sad. A dog doesn’t need a funeral.”
“First of all, dogs run in packs. So your argument is crap right from the get go. Second of all, my dog Petey was sad as shit when his favorite toy fell apart,” Johnny argued.
“How did it fall apart?”
“He chewed it up,” Johnny said with an air of contempt.
“Right. He chewed it up…because of a biological need, which you deprived him of when you domesticated him. In the wild, a dog chews a stick. When it breaks, he isn’t sad about it…I don’t think Petey was saddened by destroying his own toy…no, I think the dog simply developed a longing for its true nature; surviving nature,” Heisler clarified. “Look at it this way; people, when removed from their natural order, develop psychological problems. You take an adolescent boy, and lock him in a basement, he’s going to become deranged, not because of a lack of toys, but because he’s been limited to such a small fraction of what his interpretive systems require.”
“You ever own a dog?” Johnny asked.
“No, Johnny. I never owned a dog.”
“You ever raised an adolescent?” he asked.
“No, Johnny. I never raised an adolescent.”
“Then what do you know?” Johnny posed.
“I never drank bleach, but I don’t need to, to know it will burn,” Heisler fired back.
“Think about it from the bleach’s perspective,” Johnny jested. “It’s never been inside of a man, but life inside one, might be better than inside of a bottle.”
“Now, you’re just being difficult,” Heisler grinned.
“There’s a smile.”
Granted, it isn’t a whopping change, but it adds to Heisler’s character. Without Johnny, and in other occasions, Dr. Dekker, Heisler remains a one dimensional character, which makes for a boring protagonist.
Keep in mind, if you’re a writer, or keep a look out, if you’re a reader, for things that force characters to develop, or act a bit out of the ordinary. After all, we all have that one person, place, or thing that forces us to behave a little quirky.