I am a huge Joss Whedon fan. Like one step below stalking him.
I was late to the Joss party—I didn’t even know he existed until Once More With Feeling. For those of you who aren’t Whedonites—Joss is the creator of Buffy, and Once More With Feeling is a musical episode that is so incredibly fantastic that I know all the song by heart. And yes, I own the CD.
I’m not saying that everything that Joss Whedon creates is gold. Dollhouse—meh. Fantablous idea, but—meh.
But some of his characters resonate so deeply with me that I can have complete conversations with them in my head. And sometimes I do.
Because they are unpredictable. The cute little blonde (or brunette) who walks alone down a dark alley only to kill the big, scary monster that attacks her. The quirky, funny sidekick who is unendingly positive right up to when she decides to destroy the world. The faithless and disheartened captain who is willing to kill anyone who gets in his way but risks his life for a better world.
So often characters are predictable. We ask ourselves—is this action “in character”? What would my character do? Are these actions “realistic”?
I don’t want to read about characters who always act “in character”. I want to read about characters who do something that completely shocks me. Something that makes me wonder if I ever really knew them at all.
I understand that in written fiction the audience has to buy our character’s actions—that as writers, we need to make it believable that Sandra will tell the genie that she doesn’t want three wishes because getting what she desires makes her miserable. But I think we often go too far in setting up a character’s choices based on their personality. I want to be surprised. And I want my readers to question and be frustrated by a character’s choices—not because they aren’t believable, but because they aren’t expected.
Now if I can only figure out how to pull that off….