O is Opinionated Characters

Sometimes, in order to get know a character, I pose issue questions to them and figure out where they stand.

This sounds bizarre, asking questions of people who do not exist outside of my head. You would think I already know where they stand. I mean, I made them up, didn’t I? But mostly I don’t.

By issue questions, I mean controversial issues, topics on religion and politics and whatever else causes arguments. They will differ by time and place and setting. Because characters need opinions, right? Things they will do and the lines they will not cross.

And today – today I was reading a post by John Scalzi about what he calls The Four Levels of Discrimination. He makes a good argument about ambient discrimination. (You should read it.) I used to think of this as unconscious biases. But ambient discrimination is a good way to describe it, too.

Anyway, the question I have never asked my characters and now I realize would a good question to ask: what ambient discrimination affects them? Against the character or against others, it hardly matter which.

It’s a kind of world building, too – figuring out what will cause the natives to turn into rioting mobs. That’s fun also. (Causing riots!)

The challenge here, I think, is to keep the opinions from turning them into willful characters, who insist on doing something, when I want the plot to go in another direction. (I sometimes fail at this challenge.)

That sounds mad, I know, because I came up with the characters and I damn well ought to be able to tell what to do. But sometimes that does a disservice to the character.

What do you think? How do you go finding out who your character is?