How Do Your Characters Deal with Societal Norms? Pt. 2

Before I begin, I just want to say that if you missed Part 1 of this post series, you can find it here.

So, like I said last week, there are three ways to handle a character’s reactions to societal norms.  I talked about the two ways NOT to handle it in the previous post, because if you go back to read it, you will see that either totally accepting or rejecting societal norms will ironically make the character one thing: a zealot.

I wanted to dedicate this post to the third way to handle it because this is where true interesting character development happens.  And that is…

3. Based on their own Experiences!

Yes!  Exactly what real people do right?  As we go through life, we learn and grow.  We decide what things we’ve learned from parents, teachers, family, and friends actually resonate with us.

This is exactly what your characters need to do!

Now there’s a caveat to this that can make it a little challenging, but I’ll break it down the best I can.

Ideally in a story, you want your characters to grow, change and develop yes?

Which means that in some way, your characters are not the same people at the beginning of a story, as they are at the end correct?

So the real trick to doing this well is to decide who you want your character be at the beginning of the story.

Write down how they behave and think.  Now, I can’t really give too many examples on this only because the details depend heavily on the world and characters you create, but the broad strokes can be easily summed up as such:

You need to color their reaction to their norms in a way that would reflect the lives they led up until the beginning of your story.

Are your characters young?  Then it’s probably better that you give them a more naive and innocent reaction to the world around them.  Easiest and often best way to do this?  Is for them to take the societal norms for what they seem to be because they lack a lot of real experience seeing these norms in action outside their previously led, very small lives.

They haven’t gotten out there and gotten dirty under their nails yet.  They really just don’t understand.

Conversely, are your characters older, and a little more world-weary?  Well then this could be an excellent time to think about the back stories they have and jade them appropriately.

Has someone lived in the country their whole life?  Then maybe you should make them, “hate those city folks,” etc.  However you do it, their acceptance or rejection of societal norms has to reflect the life they’ve lived thus far, for good or for ill.

So, once you have this figured out, now it’s time to throw the plot at them.  Whether it’s an uplifting story, or a depressing one, you have to keep in mind how these experiences will color their reaction.

Going back to the previous example, maybe originally that young character has very little to no opinion on slavery because they haven’t been exposed to it and they just accept it because, “that’s the way it is.”  (I hate that statement by the way)

If they’re captured and sold into slavery, then it’s no shock to imagine that they’re going to begin rejecting the societal norm of slavery because they can see how much pain and suffering it causes.  Conversely, say they make a lot of money by being a slave owner, their acceptance of it will only deepen.

Now, you could work that it in either direction.  Your new slave could suffer from Stockholm Syndrome and love slavery, and your slave owner could become someone he now hates because of the terrible things they’ve done, but you get the point.

It’s all about frame of reference.

Now, with the older more world-weary character, it’s not so cut and dry.  You see, they haven’t formed their opinions just, “because,” like a more naive character may have.

These opinions and beliefs were formed through years of actually living through them.

This is where things can get very interesting.

Going back to the country folk example from earlier, they could still, “hate them city folk,” as a majority, but the one nice city dweller they meet could be the exception.  Or, they could become city folk themselves, leave the country life behind them and see how narrow and judgmental their thoughts were.

It really doesn’t matter how you do it.  What I like about this type of character, is that it leaves room for a lot more dynamic shades of grey available to the author and over all theme and message of the story.

So remember.  The decision for a character to either accept or reject societal norms should come from EXPERIENCES and EXPERIENCES only.

But you must make sure to give them a jumping off point at the beginning of the story, so that once the plot acts on the character you know how to change and manipulate their beliefs.

So what do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Think I’m nuts?  Whatever you do think, please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Featured image courtesy of izquotes found here.

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One response to “How Do Your Characters Deal with Societal Norms? Pt. 2

  1. Pingback: How Do Your Characters Deal with Societal Norms? Pt. 1 | Vincent Alcaras -- Author·

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