On Drawing Intricate Characters

Those who are well-attuned to the sort of books I read will likely find a great deal of evidence that I am greatly fond of intricate characters.  Perhaps, in many ways, that is because I am a particularly intricate character myself.  In Pride & Prejudice, the heroine Elizabeth Bennet is queried about her love of seeking to understand the intricate characters around her, in particular one Fitzwilliam Darcy [1], about whom she hears and sees such varied and contradictory accounts that she is unable to make sense of them.  I also read a great many books about Abraham Lincoln and he too was certainly an intricate character, a man of noble views about humanity and democracy but someone who was an avid partisan politician, somewhat cold in his own personal life, and somewhat prone to make racy jokes that would be considered highly sexist and racist in our time and were not without criticism even in his own time.  I suspect it is my own deep complexity of character that leads me to be interested in other complex figures, to get a measure of myself by looking in mirrors that reflect some degree of complexity and accuracy.

How does one get the measure of complex people?  Sometimes we get the measure of people by seeing what they do on the outside.  For example, yesterday I had a particularly complicated day.  I got up, finished reading a contemplative book on spirituality, and then proceeded to get ready for services and drive off to Hood River, where I gave a sermonette and a friend of mine gave the sermon.  As choir practice had been cancelled I had nothing to compel me to avoid fellowship and long conversation with the brethren there whose congregation is on the verge of being dissolved on account of being too small to be viable.  During the course of eating some tasty food I was able to talk about a wide variety of matters with the only gentleman of the congregation and a couple of his older daughters about such matters as the etiquette of teen and family dances and how clothing and behavior tend to communicate far more than we might wish to audiences we are simply not aware that we are communicating with.  Few more Nathanish subjects could be the subject of conversation, I imagine.  After staying far longer than I intended, I ended up arriving back in Portland barely in time to sing through “I Believe” one time with my fellow a capella singers and to attend a memorial service for a gentleman I only slightly knew when he gave me the appropriate but melancholy counsel to never let his son drive my car.  After a pot luck with more tasty food and enjoyable conversation I was off to volleyball practice with a small group of teens and youngish adults, which included more interesting conversation and lingering to enjoy the company of others before I drove home to wind down.

For me, at least, in trying to make sense of the day, a few qualities stand out.  One of them is that I live a great deal of my life in a state of considerable tension.  Fundamentally a person of deep loneliness, I enjoy the company of others and tend to linger at it even if I consider myself at least somewhat socially awkward.  This sociability and tendency to linger in conversation conflicts with the business of my life and its obligations and my dislike of being late, something which is made all the more challenging by the overscheduling I submit myself to, something which I assume to be fairly relatable.  In addition to this, the business of life tends to be in tension with my longstanding desires to reduce the high levels of stress and tension in my life which are often so high as to threaten me with an early grave if these problems are not managed well.  Of course, the fact that I spend so much time with both the energetic and outgoing young as well as the thought and memory of death gives a great deal of my life a highly ambivalent feeling.  And so it goes.  The complexity of my life, such as it is viewed from my behavior, is the result of deeply contradictory pulls, like the fierce crosswinds of the gorge that I managed to fight against in the course of my driving.

Other characters are complex for other reasons.  Ambivalence certainly does make for admirable complexity as we watch people try to deal with the difficulties and tensions of their lives and form strong character and hone their talents at diplomacy and negotiating as they manage that complexity.  There are other forms of complexity, though, some of which are not ones I am likely to know from personal experience but which I appreciate observing.  For example, some people are complex because they are mysterious, because there is a lot that is impossible to account for or explain.  I do not consider myself a particularly mysterious person but I must admit I am drawn to people with a certain amount that is unusual or ambiguous.  Why do I love mystery novels?  Because I like having problems and mysteries to solve, and life certainly provides a lot of those, enough to engage even a mind as able as my own.  In drawing complex characters, we must recognize that our drawing is influenced not only by our own natures but also by the sort of portrayals of complexity that we are familiar with and from the genres whose conventions we adopt, like romance novels and mystery novels and the like.  But it is one thing to talk about drawing natures and it is still another one to go out and write about them.  And as I have a busy day ahead of me still, let us go on to draw, as there is no more time at present to write.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/04/13/and-if-she-is-a-door-we-will-enclose-her-with-boards-of-cedar/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/08/30/the-miseducation-of-elizabeth-bennet/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/19/audiobook-review-pride-and-prejudice/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/05/12/some-notes-for-a-defense-of-fitzwilliam-darcy/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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One Response to On Drawing Intricate Characters

  1. Pingback: Book Review: First Impressions (Austen Series #1) | Edge Induced Cohesion

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