Dealing With Characters I Don’t Like

SPOILER ALERT: In this post, I’m going to dicuss some situations from AMC’s The Walking Dead. So, if you haven’t seen the most recent episodes, don’t read any further. If you haven’t seen ANY episodes, well…go watch them. ALL of them…they’re worth it. Proceed at your own risk.

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OK, now that that’s done; one of the reasons I started this blog was to explore the craft of writing. The overall craft, not just good grammatical skills (which is one of my pet peeves)…people who write using bad grammar might as well be trying to hammer nails using a screwdriver. It can be done but, boy, are you using the wrong tool.

One thing I noticed while watching The Walking Dead is that I could have a problem writing characters whose motivations are not closely related to my own personal worldview. Case in point: Lori, Rick’s wife. Just about every thing she does makes me reconsider everything I hold dear about the evil of domestic abuse. I can, with some effort, see WHY she’s motivated to do what she does…but I can’t get past how utterly stupid I think she is!

The Zombie Apocalypse has come and gone. The shambling undead walk the earth. However, she has forbidden her young son (11? 12? Something tweeny anyways) to learn his to use any weapons, be it a Glock or one of those awesome Gerber super-knives. Instead, she still has him doing algebra. Algebra!

Now, I’m not saying that all knowledge should be shelved when the ZA dawns; humans will still need to know stuff or we might as well climb back up into the trees. Rebuilding will need engineers, sure enough, not just spear carriers. But PRIORITIES, people! He can’t figure out the speed of a train leaving Chicago relative to a train leaving New York if he dies trying to fight off a walker with his pencil & notepad. Say, an hour of math, an hour on the shooting range, then machete practice. Its either that or violin lessons.

Recently, Lori watched as Rick & Glenn went into town to get the doctor. A little while later, she decides that she’s going to travel to town to hurry them up, as if Rick’s going to be dawdling at the mall, browsing for DVDs at the Best Buy, or maybe stopping off for a drink with the boys.

This is the fabled Apocalypse, Lori, with the freakin’ undead–trust me, he’s going as fast as he can. No need for you to run off on your own to a place you need a map to find. Of course, she gets herself in trouble (hint: see picture above), causing Shane to run after her and, only after lying about Rick’s return, getting her to rejoin the group AND the son she’s supposed to be taking care of.

All this is done, a bit transparently, to move along the plot: Shane reveals to the group that she’s pregnant and, later, he confesses the crazy depth of his feelings for her. OK, fine, the plot is served…but did Lori have to be such an idiot to do that? I have zero sympathy for her–more importantly for my nascent writing skills, I have zero EMPATHY with her. What makes her do these things? What runs through her head to be so stupid?

I have to be able to write characters that aren’t ME, that don’t do what I would do in the situation I create. They’ve got to have their own reasons–logical from their viewpoints–for acting the way they do. If I can’t come up with real PEOPLE to populate my stories, I might as well just name everyone “Joe”.

Lori may be a character I despise (just check out her Lady Macbeth act, whispering necessary-but-slithery evil into Rick’s ear) but she certainly gives me something to think about. Writing characters well means knowing how they tick, inside & out. No wonder the author killed her off early in the comics.

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