Character Profiles: The Character Who Knows Nothing

In my character profile series, I talk about character-types in books (and sometimes movies) that I’ve noticed in my reading/watching, and how these types have affected my writing.  My first character-type was on the character who knows everything.  So, I thought I’d follow up with the character who knows nothing!

This is the character who is clueless, OR the character that really resists and/or simply cannot take in what is going on around them.  Now, a curious thing about this character-type that I’ve noticed is that this is often the main character of a book.  And it’s a character-type that drives me insane.

My favourite kinds of characters are the ones that simply take in their surroundings, and just go with it.  Admittedly, this role is more often seen in fantastical works, but it is the type of role that makes me smile. Coraline in Neil Gaiman’s work of the same name, Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Calvin in A Wrinkle in Time, the Pevensie children in The Chronicles of Narnia…these are characters that are faced with something unreal, something they’ve never seen before, and yet they just kind of…go with it!

But not all characters are like this.  Some have a really hard time dealing with what is around them.  This character-type was brought to my attention because I am currently reading The Alchemyst by Michael Scott.  And in this book the two main teens, twins Sophie and Josh, are driving me bonkers with their resistance to what’s going on!  They see something magical, and then say ‘but magic doesn’t exist’.  They then have magic explained to them, they see several more magical things, and then say again, ‘but magic doesn’t exist’.  Every time they see some new creature, they think ‘but it’s impossible!’, and when people tell them they are in danger because of such creatures, they blatantly ignore them, thinking that none of its real, so none of it is really dangerous!

ERGHH.

Other ways that this character-type can come about is through obliviousness of the obvious.  Sometimes, it’s fun to guess things before the MC does.  But sometimes things are SO obvious, and the MC just doesn’t get it.  I notice this a lot in romance books…girl simply does not believe that boy likes her, even though it is OBVIOUS that boy does.  It takes her till the very end of the story to figure things out, and when she does, she’s shocked by it. Some other examples of this character-type (that I’ve noticed) in my recent reading include Sunday in Alethea Kontis’s Enchanted, Nikki in Brodi Ashton’s Everneath.

Maybe this is a personal thing.  Perhaps others are not bothered by these types of characters.  But I am.  So it has definitely influenced my writing.  When I write characters, I try to make them go with the flow, or I make them oblivious in certain aspects, but observant in others.  In the MS I am currently querying, the MC has a major blind spot in the way she looks at the world.  But she’s somewhat aware of the blind spot, and she’s sharp in other areas to make up for it.  I don’t necessarily think characters should know or accept anything, either.  But there needs to be a balance.  What do I mean?

Bastian in The Neverending Story is a good example of this.  He’s reading a book, and the book seems to start kind of involving him.  But that can’t be!  Can it?  Bastian resists because what’s happening is magical, and he lives in a non-magical world.  But even while he resists, he also kind of believes, and ultimately he accepts the truth for what it is, about half-way through the book.  There is resistance there, and it is believable resistance.  But there is also the acceptance of the magic, which allows the reader to delve into the world uninhibited.

Another (quick) example comes from the movie Shaun of the Dead.  I’ve used a clip from this film before…it has some great moments.  In this particular moment, Shaun and Ed discuss the existence of zombies, with Shaun first rejecting the idea of such a thing, and then quickly accepting that what he sees is, in fact, proof enough of the idea being true. As a side note, obliviousness does work well in a comedic situation, although I find this harder to accomplish in a book rather than, say, in a 2 hour movie or 30 minute television episode (situational comedy is the perfect example of this…I’m thinking Three’s Company!)

So there you are.  This is a multi-dimensional character for sure.  It is the character who has a lot of trouble accepting what is in front of him/her, whether that be the interest of another character, magic, or something else.  For me, it’s a huge turn-off in reading.  But there are so many ways to include aspects of this character-type, without being overkill.

What do you think?  Does this character-type bother you?  Or do you like it?  Have any other examples for me? (It’s always difficult to pull examples from thin air.  You know you’ve read them before, but you can’t remember where, of course!)

3 Responses so far.

  1. i love your use of shaun of the dead, one of my favorite movies.
  2. Mere Joyce says:
    One of mine, too…It is one of those rare movies for that, no matter how many times I watch it, it never loses its effect!
  3. Mere Joyce says:
    *movies that for me, no matter how…

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