Monday, February 21, 2011

How Characters Treat Others

Words of wisdom such as "Actions speak louder than words," "These people pay me lip service" and "Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you" come to mind in thinking about this week's discussion of character definition. We're talking about defining fictional characters by the way they treat others.

Melanie Hamilton Wilkes pops into my mind when I think of a character being defined by the way she treats others. Remember how kindly she treated the prostitute Belle in "Gone with the wind?" Remember how generously the prostitute treated Rhett, Ashley and Dr. Mead when they were trying to escape the Yankee soldiers after having burnt out a dangerous encampment?

In both of these instances the attitudes these characters have toward fellow human beings goes a long way toward defining the hearts of Melanie and Belle.

In my book "Stephanie's Surprise" there is a married couple who has taken in the mentally handicapped sister of the wife. Showing this act of kindness in the early 20th Century when mentally handicapped people were often hidden in shame or institutionalized makes these folks look as though they've behaved heroically. The protagonist, Dr. Aaron Wesley, however, discovers the poor woman has been badly treated, and her sister and brother-in-law have taken her in merely to get their hands on her monthly stipend.

Showing readers the hearts of characters by revealing how they treat fellow human beings, especially in private, is highly effective in defining fictional characters.

I hope your week is beginning to show signs of spring.


Fran Shaff

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