In storytelling, and otherwise, “character” is a strong word. It is quite literally the definition of a person. To have a good character is analogous to being a good person. In storytelling of all forms, breaking character is a significant act. It is often a defining moment which pushes a character to do something they won’t usually do and that, in turn, makes the story and the character relatable and believable.
Why is that, though? It’s because when we read a story or watch a movie, we don’t want plot conveniences or keikaku; we want reality. We want to see a character do what we’d do if we went through what they were going through. Breaking character, if done right, grows the character in ways even the writer couldn’t imagine. It is the same in life.
We’re all flawed people. All of us have certain behaviours associated with us. For example, there’s a particular way a Tim acts if he hasn’t had coffee for a few hours. It’s not just our behaviour. It is what we think, believe in or say. Our characters, while not set in stone, are usually very consistent. However, it has been my experience that I grew the most when I broke character, either of my will or by the situation.
When Do Characters Break Character?
Most storytellers make their characters take rash decisions or do things they won’t do otherwise in situations that are infused with emotion, if not overflowing with it. A very empathetic character could lash out on someone if they were put in extreme distress. An extremely logical character who does everything by the book could be impulsive and defiant when they fall in love.
The keyword is emotion. It could be good or bad; it could be positive or negative. It isn’t always a rash decision though. Sometimes, it is just an act that is so different from the usual; it stands out on its own.
How Does All Of It Apply To Life?
That is because stories need triggers to drive events forward. Life is a bit different. You’re always making decisions, and those decisions are pushing things forward irrespective of how strongly you feel about them.
Deciding to take two minutes out to read this blog post is a decision. Choosing to read this blog post if you’re not fond of reading, that is a character break. A minor one but a break nonetheless.
A usually cranky and irritable person who’d always have the last word says nothing and walks away from the argument. That is a character break.
A college student who drinks soft drinks by the litres every day suddenly stops drinking soft drinks altogether, irrespective of their motivations. That is a character break.
Someone who enjoys living a lifestyle where instant noodles are all they eat, to the point that they write a blog post about it, suddenly shifts from noodles to salads, cereal and sandwiches. That is a character break.
A person who is trying to focus on a career path they’re not sure of for over six months suddenly shifts all focus to their writing while going through a messy break-up. That is a character break.
A teenager who calls hate on tattoos because he fails to understand them gets one at the age of twenty-one because he finally realizes. That is a character break.
A somewhat compassionate person overall fails to acknowledge an injured man and worries about chump change instead of their well-being. That is a character break. A rather sad one but a break nonetheless.
I could go on forever, but I guess you get the idea by now.
So, Break The Mould
Life is full of character breaks. Those are the moments we remember, to be honest. The times we didn’t act like our usual selves to become something more, something better.
There are times where we’re faced with two choices. The first is obvious, to be whoever you are and live it on auto-pilot. The second is a little harder where you can do something else, but it isn’t consistent with what you say or what you do.
In my opinion, the second is important because when we decide to act in a way that isn’t consistent or doesn’t go with who we are, we’re doing something essential. We’re embracing our ability to change.
The second one is also harder because it does fall in the range of hypocritical but would you do something that pushes you to be a more open, clearer and better version of yourself or sit and wallow because “this isn’t something he’d do”?
Obviously, this doesn’t mean you go about saying one thing and doing the other all the time. That is just, stupid. You need some ground values and a belief system. In fact, your value system is usually strong enough for you be unable to break it. It’s the stuff that goes above it that hinders your growth.
So, if you’re stuck with the stuff which you said and believed in some time ago and believe otherwise now then by all means, break free.
Break your character to build your character.