Making Sure Your Characters Fit Their Community

This morning I went to yoga at my church. As far as yoga goes, this is pretty non-intensive–more for relaxation and stretching than anything else. I’m the youngest person who goes. Afterwards, everyone gets together to chat for a while and, since several people who come know me or my husband or the small, mobile ones, I often have several people come and talk to me for a while. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about how I need to go and what I need to get done and what order I should do it in, and I find the practice somewhat stressful.

(Also? Introvert.)

Part of that is personality, and part of it is generational.

But I do know how to play my part, because this is a part of the society I was raised in and I know its rules. Which is something we should always remember about our characters as well.

Characters, like people, are a product of their environments and upbringing. Societies have rules, and even people who are outcasts or uncomfortable with the people around them know those rules and respond to them in some manner. And if you remove a character from their base environment and place them somewhere else, even if those new rules fit them better as a person, there’s still going to be a transitional period for that character.

Authors can fall into the trap of creating a character outside of their environment pretty easily. It’s not hard to give your character modern ideals and then plant them in a society which goes against all of them. It’s one thing to have a character against the injustices of their society, but it’s another to put them there without any logical reason. People raised in comfort tend to not see issues until directly confronted with them. People raised in poverty or other hard circumstances often have a hard time seeing the way out.

Authentic characters feel that way because they feel complete. Readers can see where they came from and how they got there. Someone serving as a political mouthpiece for the author might have important things to say, but they don’t feel real.

What do you think, Squiders? Have any examples, good or bad, where a character doesn’t echo their environment?

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