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Character Debate: Words vs actions.

Discussion in 'Tea Room (Book Chat)' started by tirial, June 20, 2018.

  1. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    This has come up a few times now, but when a character says something and then takes an action that completely contradicts it, which do you believe? There's the well-known rule 'show don't tell' for authors, but when can you tell if they are following it, or if they simply haven't realised the implications of what they've written. You also hear about informed heroism, where the author obviously thinks they are writing a hero, but the actions are anything but.

    So what tells you more about a character, their words or their actions?
  2. Honeybee42

    Honeybee42 Member

    I think I've seen more of the informed characteristics (brilliant character, so I'm told, who consistently behaves like a protagonist in a horror movie), informed romances where you honestly can't see any reason why the characters ought to be attracted to one another, but *plot* ...

    Long way around to say that what I am shown (character actions) are more real than anything else. And discrepancies between what they say/I'm told about them and what they do annoy me.
  3. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    I'm with Honeybee. I've read plenty of books where it's clear that the author wants me to feel a certain way about a character but their actions lead me to feel the opposite. I think actions speak louder than words 99% of the time.
  4. Gemini

    Gemini Member

    I guess it sort of depends on what the point of view is. If it's first person, I'm far less inclined to put a lot of faith in what they think about themselves. Like another thread said on here, people (or at least characters) have a tendency to believe that they are good people. Aside from that, people also typically don't see themselves as they actually are. So, I'll usually base my reading more so off of their actions in that case. When it comes to third person, it's more of a tossup. I think that if the actions and their words are in direct opposition to each other and there's no real sense of a motive, then I'm going to judge them by their actions. Does that make sense? I guess it all comes down to action either way.
  5. Kindler

    Kindler Active Member

    Depends how gullible you are, I've seen arguments from people that because a character says they are something obviously it means they have to be like that. Doesn't matter what they do, they value what's said above all else.

    I've someone walks like a duck, acts like a duck and swims like a duck, I don't care if they say they are a rocket propelled penguin, they're still a duck.

    The only catch to this is the unreliable narrator, where they are lying to not just the characters but to the reader as well. But in those cases, it's got to become obvious by the end of the book, that's what happened.
  6. penumbra

    penumbra Member

    I'm going to echo what others have said and say that their actions tell me more about the character. Their words can be important too because how a character sees themselves can tell you a lot about them. Like Kindler said, the unreliable narrator is an exception but it's usually pretty obvious when that's the case.
  7. Jackie

    Jackie Member

    Yes, they're a duck, but they're a duck who says it's a rocket-propelled penguin. What does that say about them?

    While it can be a mistake on the author's part, it's usually obvious because the contrast of words and actions would typically be part of the character's arc in a work where it's intentional. This can be the case with an unreliable narrator, as you pointed out, but it can also be the case in a work where the character doesn't see themselves clearly. Yes, it could be the "hero" who doesn't do heroic deeds, but it can also be the anti-hero who thinks they're always looking out for number one but then risks their life to save someone else.

    So, I guess actions tell us the most about a character, but their words add layers to their actions.
  8. jessica

    jessica Citizen of Logres

    Now I want to read that book:whistle:. What does that say about me::suss::?

    Isn't this the thing where an author says a character is one thing, and the reader just kind of thinks 'no they're not':confused:. Its like a romance book where the main character says he's a catch and everyone agrees and I'm screaming at all the red flags:mad:.
  9. Tregaron

    Tregaron Member

    Thinking about it, is that the warning sign of author opinion, rather than character views? If a character thinks they are something, all the other characters agree, and the narrative proceeds as if they have that quality when they don't, then it is poor writing and characterisation.
  10. Reader

    Reader Vile Critic

    A stronger tell is when, in third-person omniscient view, the unbiased external viewpoint starts extolling the character's not-otherwise-demonstrated virtues. Done sarcastically, it is hilarious. Done straight, even my kindle starts to groan, and while the device may have good taste, I suspect it is from my white-knuckled death-grip.
  11. That only works if they act like Ripley or Kill Valentine
  12. jessica

    jessica Citizen of Logres

    o_O you mean Jill Valentineo_O?
  13. Honeybee42

    Honeybee42 Member

  14. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    I was going to say. Bloody Valentine was from SLA, but that's a really indie British RPG.

    Informed characteristics can really disconnect a reader from a story, particularly if it causes values issues. Historical books I can understand if they are representing the values of the time, but if an author writes a fantasy story, have the main characters doing abhorrent things, and expects the reader to cheer them, that sometimes says something about the author. After all, they chose to make and endorse that society and character's views by making them the heroes.
  15. jessica

    jessica Citizen of Logres

  16. Jackie

    Jackie Member

    I think I'd want to read that too. :p

    That sounds like a good warning sign to me. I'm with @Reader about it being an even stronger tell if it's told in third-person omniscient since this should be an unbiased narrator.

    Out of curiosity, can anyone think of any examples when an author has done this but rather than using it to talk about a character's more positive attributes? Where they use it as a way to try and make their characters seemed flawed without actually having these flaws affect their actions?
  17. I meant both?

    You know SLA? Marry me!
  18. Cece

    Cece New Member

    Despite the countless times I've seen this done, I'm having a hard time coming up with a specific example that isn't from a mainstream book series. I've seen it in a lot of fanfiction, namely ones with pairings like Draco/Hermione where the bad guy really is a good guy and changes his character completely but is still considered a "bad boy".
  19. Terry

    Terry Member

    Romances - no don't ask how I know - more specifically where the author is trying to make the lead male/female not quite so perfect as to be relatable, and does so by detailing some minor, but obscure, flaws that affect them. These flaws never come into play, they are just there to stop the character being a Mary Sue/Gary Stu, but the author gets to claim they are not perfect.
  20. Jackie

    Jackie Member

    I guess that works. I was looking for one that included legitimate flaws that they truly possess, but that just never seems to really come into play throughout the story. I've read a couple of Dramione fanfics many moons ago, but I don't recall him being like that. It was essentially a different character given the name and reputation of Draco Malfoy.

    I'm wondering if we're thinking of the same mainstream example. Is clumsiness the "flaw" of the protagonist?

    I think you're right about romance being the genre most guilty of this. By having those obscure, minor flaws, the protagonist isn't outright perfect...even though, at the end of the day, they pretty much are. What flaws do you think are the most common for this use?

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