Unrealistic Characters

I’ve read stories in the past where I’ve had major problems with the believability of certain characters – especially characters who are super confrontational or like to stir trouble and cause problems for no reason. They’ve always bothered me. No one in real life deliberately goes around causing trouble and drama and fights just because. There’s no motive, nothing to gain, no reason whatsoever.

Or so I thought.

The problem is that people really don’t make sense. Also that I’ve been very fortunate with workmates in the past, it seems. Obviously I’ve known confrontational people, but there have always been reasons—however poor—behind their actions. In recent months though, I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with someone who just loved causing tension. They had no apparent motives, no reasons I could define. No specific targets. Anyone was fair game. It seemed as though they just weren’t satisfied when everything was happy and peaceful. They thrived on confrontation and I still can’t wrap my head around it.

The real world truly is a strange place. Quite often character interactions in novels can be written off as badly motivated and contradictory. The problem is that people can be like that. How do we work with this in fiction? How do we paint perfectly real characters who can easily get written off as unrealistic? Mark Twain nailed it with his familiar quote: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”

I’ve fallen into it myself. I have this issue with one of my characters in Through the Black. He hasn’t been called “unrealistic” yet but his motivations and attitude switches have been questioned. These are things I need to look at carefully because, while these things make sense for him, it’s very difficult to show when he isn’t a POV character why they should make sense. Some beta readers got him, others didn’t. It’s definitely something I need to poke at a bit to figure out how to solve but also highlights the other side of the coin for me. This character makes perfect sense to me, while these randomly confrontational characters didn’t before (and in all honesty, still don’t). I guess I need to look harder at my own perceptions of people and personalities in general.

I also need to remember while reading that people are really, really weird.