Sunday, July 13, 2014

Believable characters

There's a radio commercial that's been out lately. I don't even know what it's a commercial for--some hospital or insurance plan, maybe? In any case, one of the characters in the commercial is supposed to be a hypochondriac worried about the illnesses he might have. And he's just randomly spewing out the names of various conditions that don't even have similar symptoms.

But there is logic even to hypochondria. In my experience, exaggerated anxiety over illness tends to evolve in one of two ways. In the first way, a symptom--say, a headache or stomach-ache or leg pain--will lead the person to research the various illnesses associated with that symptom. Therefore, the person with the stomach-ache might worry about an ulcer or appendicitis, but he would not imagine that he had a skull fracture or a detached retina. In the other manifestation, a hypochondriac might hear about a particular dangerous illness, especially one with very vague or common symptoms, and might start asking herself whether she has those symptoms ("Is my vision a little blurry? Haven't I been feeling tired lately?")

However, I have never met a person who displayed hypochondria by just flinging the names of unrelated diseases into a conversation, willy-nilly. This fictional character rings false, a victim of insufficient research or insufficient imagination. In a commercial, that may not matter as much, because I think the suspension-of-disbelief goals of a commercial are different from those of a novel. But most novels do require that suspension of disbelief. Characters should always make sense to themselves, even if they seem strange or extreme to the other characters.

4 comments:

  1. I'm envious of characters who make sense to themselves! That's always been my personal goal in life, but I haven't gotten there yet.

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  2. Sometimes a quirky person might view the world with the lenses that it's everyone else around them who don't make sense. And I'm saying this as a self-described quirky person.

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