Characters by themselves are boring things. Gary Paulsen was one of quite a few authors that never realized this. Every story was the same thing – random kid gets stuck in the wilderness, fends for himself. You don’t really know who the kid is. You don’t care, either, you’re either rooting for him or against him the entire time. He’s not a full character, though, only a ghost of one.

Good characters come in pairs. They trot, crawl, swoop, or stumble onto the literary stage, preparing for their paragraphs in the limelight. The pair might be holding hands, gazing lovingly into each others’ eyes; they might be casting each other suspicious glances, with weapons concealed behind their backs; they could even be actively ignoring each other, entering a story at the same time while completely denying their relation to one another. At any rate, no character can be brought out, and be expected to be believed, by itself.

Readers don’t trust narrators. We’ve learned not to. Take some of Poe’s stories, for example: The narrator convinces himself he is sane, yet there is no supporting character to back this claim up. Sure you are, we think to ourselves doubtfully as the narrator slowly pulls us into his logic. A single character is never to be trusted, because we don’t see how he or she relates to the rest of the world.

As is in literature, it is the same in real life: People, apart from one another, are dreadfully boring. It’s only in mixing that anything interesting comes about. Often, it’s difficult to accept that we’re all human in the end, and if it were not for the rest of the human race, we would yawn ourselves to death. What good is an idea if someone’s not there to challenge it; what fun is anyone if there’s no one irritating them a little?

It’s something I’ve found when I’m writing, too. No matter how interesting a character’s backstory might be, there’s nothing that’s going to bring it out if they don’t bump into someone who mixes with them just right. Sometimes there’s the annoyances, who bug the character into doing things; the naysayers, who question a character’s actions; the listeners, who the character pours his heart and soul into; the lunatics, who throw random witty lines or inventions at the character to see how he can cope with them. My character pairs have so far ranged from the simple “best friends” scenario, to two people forced together by work or fate, to two people that hardly know each other that meet in a bookstore, to this particular pair.

You don’t need to know the characters, really, but it’s a pirate and his baboon. Even they’re a pair, in a strange way. This picture was drawn by Sarah:

More often than not, people fuss when the written word is expressed in a different way, especially movies. I don’t know why. If I have an idea, and someone else can interpret it differently, I’m interested. Maybe this isn’t exactly how I pictured the Software Pirate Captain Queebil and his Baboon, but now I certainly do. It’s an interesting experience, having one’s ideas transformed into another medium; it’s almost as though it’s bleeding out of your head and taking on, however briefly, a life of its own.

I’d hate to have someone steal my ideas, but there’s no harm in adding to them.

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