Approximately ten years ago, I watched a business self-improvement video. The host’s job involved traveling to businesses, evaluating their operations, and recommending improvements. This video included his favorite example, which occurred at a large firm. There, he interviewed the mailroom supervisor, who had been at the company for 25 years.
This person’s job was to distribute mail and interoffice communications. As a result, this individual became a wealth of knowledge, and what should have been a 15-minute discussion turned into a two-hour marathon of good ideas.
When the host presented their report, the business executives were flabbergasted. They eagerly discussed each improvement and appreciated the deep company understanding. At the end of the presentation, the executives warmly congratulated the host for performing an excellent job.
When asked about how so many significant improvements could be developed in such a short time, the host revealed that the ideas came from the mailroom supervisor. The mood instantly turned sour. “Oh, that person! They are a load of hot air!” Then, the executives ordered the report shredded.
What the heck? Good ideas cannot come from the mailroom supervisor? That strategic person goes everywhere, knows everybody, and sees everything. Plus, they handle inventory, documents, and presentations. This person is the backbone, eyes, and ears of the company. Yet, their quirky personality made the executives cringe.
Unfortunately, we often see or experience prejudiced behavior. Race, religion, appearance, and gender prevent good ideas from being accepted. From this example, we also know that personality plays an important role. Yet, this blog is about books. How does personality bias apply to characters?
Hmm, that’s a tricky call. It is essential to educate the reader about core character flaws when building a character. Meaning that when a character negatively interacts with another character, the negative source must be clear. “A load of hot air” character does not translate to an apparent flaw. But for fun, let’s build such a character.
Pat (a gender natural name) is 5’ 5” tall, with brown curly hair, and could stand to lose 20 pounds. This person started in shipping and worked their way up to the mailroom supervisor. Most people get along with Pat, and this individual does a fantastic job of keeping the company communicating. However, a few people do not appreciate Pat’s bubbly personality and feel this individual should focus on delivering mail and not chatting.
That’s a grand description, but readers would not understand why Pat’s ideas would attract such an adverse reaction. The executives actively dislike Pat without a logical reason. Does this mean that a character cannot have a hidden flaw or be surrounded by mean people? I am sure my four blog readers are aware of close-minded people in real life. Can we simply state that fact? “Hey, we all dislike Pat and do not know why.” Umm, no.
What is going on? Readers hate characters with weak foundations. They do not mind-read the author’s thoughts. What about a mysterious character? How about a blanket statement like, “People hate Pat because of their bubbly personality.” My advice is to tread lightly with such character types. Readers only tolerate a slight amount of confusion before putting the book down. Characters must have their issues out in the open to be explored and criticized.
Where does this leave us? I have discovered another aspect of real life that is not contained in good stories. Why are readers so timid? No idea. Yet a talented writer must understand every reader quirk or risk offending their four loyal blog enthusiasts.
You’re the best -Bill
April 20, 2022
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