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Should A Character Represent Values? – Op-Ed Piece


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Should A Character Represent Values? – Op-Ed Piece

Characters are one of my favorite things about stories. If you read enough of this blog, then that is the one thing that you will probably learn about me. I am fascinated with characters, what they mean for us involved in making the story, what they mean for us learning the story. Characters are the key; whether heroes fighting for a noble cause, like John Wick and his pistol, or villains wanting to watch the world burn, like Thanos and his army, or humorous characters there for a good time, like those in Seinfeld, characters, are in my opinion why the audience is there, to begin with, and it's why people want to learn and enjoy the story. Although I am sure that some of you may disagree and say that it is the plot, the highs and lows of the adventure, and the twists and turns of the tale that engage you, they are fine too. But the characters make the plot, in my opinion.

This is kind of like how I was seen at a chicken restaurant one time with a co-worker.

I'll tell you a funny story; trust me, it has to do with characters. Now I am working on the mail route with a new guy they just hired. The idea to the matchup was that I was taking him around to the various parks and whatever because I was leaving the job. I was showing him how I do it. I don't know if you know this or not, but the mail carrier job is tough work. You have to drive a car to the destination and then leave the right package in the correct designated spot. Sophisticated stuff. Those rubber bands don't band themselves. Halfway through the route, the guy I was training, whose name I honestly don't remember, suggested we stop off at a chicken place he heard about. They have great chicken, he tells me. I didn't normally go to the place since it was a little early on my route, and I enjoyed eating lunch around the end of it, so I had a longer lunch because 90 percent of my job was complete then. I agreed to the destination to the foreign food place since I figured I was never going to see the guy ever again. We stopped off for lunch at around 11:30 AM at the place that was supposedly good. Anyway, as we stood in line, deciding what to eat, the cashier, a middle-aged black woman, started to flirt with the co-worker. Me and the tall, scrawny guy were probably the only two white people the place had seen in the past month, that is the area of town we were in, and no, the co-worker didn't come across as if he was from one of those areas. "You cute." She said to him, and she poured out compliments for the guy as he placed his order. After he paid, she stopped talking, and I am not even kidding; she looked at me and said, "Oh, you cute too." As if she just noticed me. I said thanks and placed my order.

That is what the plot of a story is to me. I only compliment it after I tell the character, the part of the story I actually like, a bunch of nice things.

Honestly, the food wasn't even that good; I've had better chicken at less renowned places.

My question today is about the characters themselves; Should they represent something?

What do I mean by representing something? That is a vague question. It's like when someone asks a stupid question to a retail worker. The worker who is overworked and not in the mood for customers annoying him, as he is putting back the many kinds of fruit, is asked by a naïve customer, "I am looking for fruit." Like it is a joke. The person doesn't get that there is a lot of fruit out there, and the worker is supposed to magically know the type the customer wants. Mind reading is not a skill of any in retail, no matter how much a customer may think it is. By representing something, I mean that the character is not meant to be real or even relatable, but they take on a theme that many of us know about. Think of how Aphrodite is a love/sex goddess, and Poseidon is a god of the ocean. Neither of them is meant to be seen as real people. That is how the Greeks wrote them, as an embodiment of something rather than an empathetic character. Like the other Greek Gods, calling them gods may be deceiving to a modern audience. When we think of a god, we think of an old man with a white beard with unnatural power or Jesus Christ. We don't think of gods as representations of things, but that is what they were, and in our modern storytelling world, we have quite a few also.

Take a look at Santa Claus. He represents Christmas. He is the embodiment of the holiday. When the season of giving comes around, and the cheer is in the air, we know that it is the man in the red suit's time to shine. He represents all that is good in a holiday many know and love. Think about all those Halloween monsters like Michael Meyers and Jason, who go around murdering anyone in their path, and appearing indestructible. They are meant to be evil reincarnated, not serial killers on the loose or clever murderers on the run, but evil if evil was a person. That is why they can survive all the pain inflicted on them since they are not really meant to feel pain as a normal person feels it. There is also Cupid, who, like Aphrodite, is supposed to be about love and romance, not just a guy with a bow and arrow.

Batman even talks about representing something in his own story. He takes the audience through his thought process, literally telling them that the character he is creating is not meant to be real but a god-like figure representing fear. The idea of a character not actually being a character is not new. It's why great stories are so timeless since they are about timeless things through the lens of a person.

Why would an author do this, though? I thought all of you liked realistic stories? Don't these gods take away from our experience as humans because rather than living as we do, they don't really live at all? They don't act like a natural human because they weren't written as one.

There are a few reasons that an author would be better off, with some understanding of this for their stories.

People know the theme – We are talking about universal ideals here that have no barrier in language or boundary. Even time is not a barrier for these ideals since they are a part of the human experience. People know what love is or how fear affects them because we all deal with it. From the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh deciding on whether to like Moses or not, to the medieval knight impersonating Sir Galahad, to the modern office worker who doesn't work in the office, the human experience, although it may seem different across time and cultures, is not as different as we think. These are not some niche topics that only a few speak of. To get your character across to the audience relating him or her to something that is more popular than them, is not a bad idea. Everyone knows Christmas, fear, love, or the ocean, so describing the character is easy since the audience knows this without the character.

Allows more than one author – If you don't make a character personable and make him or her represent an idea or theme, that allows future writers to talk about that same character and build on them. After all, the character is only a way of talking about a certain topic in story form, and no one really owns the topic. So make Santa be about what Christmas is about because that allows those in any era to write about him, since they can just write about what Christmas is to them, using Santa as the driving force. If you are a fan of Batman, then this idea is very well-known to you also since each film franchise is a reinterpretation of the character, all with one thing in common; Batman is not meant to be real. (Although, they present him as such.) His very character is the ideal that is meant to be universal.

Okay, so what about those who don't do all of this? You ask. Good question. What does happen if the writer doesn't want their character to represent a large theme for our culture? Can a writer prevent this? Unfortunately, I don't think that they can. If you are around long enough and enough people read your character's stories, then that character ends up representing something, whether the author likes it or not.

Did Washington Irving intend on making the most iconic Halloween character of all time? Probably not. He was a great writer and probably thought the idea was unique, so he went with it. Over time, we associated his Headless Horseman character with fear, and murder on Halloween, and of course, headless people, because it was so popular. The theme itself may not have been Irving's intention, and that is a power not in the hands of the writer but the audience themselves. This is one of those moments where an artist thanking the fans really does matter. By interpreting a character in a certain way and allowing that character, like Santa, or Batman, or Aphrodite, to be an embodiment, the audience is making that character immortal since the themes are immortal, not the character. The trick was to have people accept that connection.

If you are a writer and believe that your character doesn't represent anything, you are wrong. Every great character becomes a god in a way. Not in the Jesus sense, but in the Greek sense, in that, they come to be used for us to even understand a certain topic. A true writer will understand this part of storytelling and accept which ways the rivers of their characters go.

Should a character represent values? It doesn't matter. If they are around long enough, they will anyway.




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About The Blogger

Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes that the reader shares that same passion.


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