Fictional people are CHARACTERS

Fiction, apart from in literature departments, tends to be dismissed by academia as “non-scientific”, without being able to see its importance as a means for people to understand each other.

Philosophers pride themselves on doing “though experiments”, in which they consistently assume people to be psychological clones of each other, while most academic psychology departments treat people as an expression of their physical brain and nothing more.

One of today’s buzz words is “personality” and it is usually wrongly used to mean a person’s outward and observable habitual behaviour only – implying that their behaviour is all there is to a person – so that, the moment a person behaves differently than the group, they are labelled with a “personality disorder” (and possibly medicated), despite the fashionable claim that “we are all unique”.

But we need to keep in mind that people are not two-dimensional beings; they have aspects that cannot be observed or understood by others, because our mind is immaterial and so is the information it communicates to others.

Just for clarity’s sake, let me define the words before we talk about fiction. A person is an individual human being (body and mind). This person has an inner life that is their personality, their inner Self, which uses four information filters to communicate with the world around them. All people have these filters, because without them we could not survive. But that does not mean that we all use those filters in the exact same manner, and this is where the dismissal comes in, because these differences cannot be observed from outside. Personality types indicate those who use their filters in the same fashion, and, since there are four filters, there are sixteen different types.

Additionally, different situations require different behaviour – you cannot behave at work the way you do at home – so that each person has a ‘wardrobe’ of behavioural masks they can use in different situations. This is our outward behaviour (persona) over which we have a measure of control.

However, because the world consists of many people who use their personality filters differently and therefore don’t always understand each other, each person experiences judgments and reactions from the moment they are born, which influence how they learn to feel about themselves and others. For example, if one person grew up in an environment where they were constantly criticized and the other in a supportive environment, then two identical personality types will habitually behave differently in response to the same situation.

In other words, outward behaviour is motivated from who we are inside (our personality or Self), augmented or hindered by a lifetime of environmental experiences, as well as the requirements of that particular situation. Habitual behaviour is therefore neither the persona nor the personality of a person, but their character: that which they have learned to respond to the environment with, based on their experiences. Although there are only sixteen personality types, there are an infinite number of characters, which is what people mean when they say “we are all unique”.

In literature, we talk about “characters” to indicate the portrayal of the people in stories. In well written stories, these are fully developed people with a personality – which is the inner life the writer allows the reader to become part of by describing the character’s thoughts and feelings – a social and cultural background and personal history, all of which influence their outward behaviour.

In other words, a well-rounded character in a book is a person with a personality, who behaves in certain ways as a result of their life’s experiences, no differently than a real person does, and the reader, who is well aware that their own behaviour is not all there is to them, is also aware that the way a character behaves is not all they are, which is why they feel for them.

That raises the question why so many people understand fictional characters as holistic, but label real-life people according to their superficial behaviour only.

The answer lies in the power of fiction; the power to allow the reader to crawl into other people’s perspectives (their thoughts, feelings, senses), which we cannot do with the people around us.

In some cultures, fiction is the only accepted way of handing down moral beliefs and truths, but even in our western society, story telling is much more powerful than any study or counselling session in learning to understand our inner differences. I have used this example before, but homosexuality, for example, did not become acceptable to most people until writers and filmmakers started showing us real people with feelings and beliefs.

Fiction writing is the “thought experiment” of the social sciences, because it is the only way we can experiment with holistic people in social situations, by showing the diverse personality types, characters and situational behaviours all in response to each other.

People, after all, are not the impersonal data or inanimate objects scientists and most philosophers like to deal with because they can be reduced to their simple elements. People are holistic, complex, endlessly diverse and living in situations with endless variables. That is the nature of “being unique”.

In short, despite all the confusion in word usage among psychological theories, the world of literature had it right from the start: fictional people are characters, and the challenge and joy of writing fiction is to make their world as complex as our real world is.

 

Advertisements

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Henry Mitchell
    Oct 19, 2018 @ 02:22:18

    My first friends were in books. They are still the ones I turn to for comfort when I am broken.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: