Creating Characters: What Makes Us So Radical?

A writer who takes his or her work seriously must also be a philosopher, to some degree. We have to understand the human condition while also attempting to figure out the human condition. How does the mind work under certain circumstances? How do we function, and why do we function, the way we do when certain things happen? Not so much on a psychological level, but more in terms of how does what’s happening in our lives affect our actions, thoughts, and change our beliefs? Can our core beliefs be changed? We have to understand triggers and historical occurrences on minute, personal levels of our characters. Philosophy, the way I understand is, isn’t about right or wrong answers. Instead it’s about potential understanding of why we are the way we are, why the people of this world interact the way we do, and what results can be drawn from it as well as what might happen to us.

The particulars of this post, which could potentially end up as a monthly series, are what makes people so radical? A lot of my current writing, dark as it may have turned, deals with a lot of radical people exercising radical ideals. At least, they’re radical in the world in which I’m writing. Some characters are radical anti-theists interacting with religious individuals, while others are vigilantes with radical ideals of justice. But If we’re to understand how our characters function, then we have to understand how we function. Those are the parts of writing I find so fun and interesting. The learning and exploring that comes with creating characters who are so fundamentally different from me. Embodying a person who could be the complete opposite of who I am as a person allows me to see deeper into that life and create a more three-dimensional, richer character. And, chances are, if I’m learning, then so is the reader.

But first, what exactly defines someone who is radical? Relying on the trusty Oxford dictionary, I think this is the best-fit description of what I’m attempting to gain a better understanding of:

“A person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform; a member of a political party or part of a party pursuing such aims.”

Examples of such individuals, extreme as they may be, would be someone like a suicide bomber, or one who might take up arms to defend his or her beliefs. What state of mind does this individual have to be in to engage in an activity such as that? I would argue that a person who would do something as extreme as taking, or risking, their own life would have to be absolutely sure that what they’re doing is right. Whether it’s in a religious sense–that they’re actions are seen as righteous in the eyes of their deity–or in a personal sense–that they’re actions will be rewarded through political or social change–they must be in an unchanging state of mind. I argue that an individual like this will almost never be able to have his or her mind changed unless presented with absolute, convincing facts that they can visibly see. This is a person who isn’t reasoned with well, especially by people with an opposing point of view, and he or she may also see them as a threat or target.

Of course we see people similar to this all over social media. People who blame one political party or group of individuals for all the country’s or world’s problems, but I don’t think they can be seen as radicals unless they are absolutely willing to fight and potentially die for their cause, whether it’s good or bad.

That being said, I think the term radical isn’t absolute, either. Are soldiers radicals because they’re putting their life on the line to protect their country? Some, perhaps. But are law enforcement or firefighters or secret service radicals because they’re risking their lives to protect and help others? I don’t think so. I think there’s a line between risking your life to protect and risking your life to further a cause.

These [radicals], however, are some of the most fun and interesting to create and write about. They’re people we can explore and see the world through their eyes. Everything and everyone in this world deserves to be understood, and by exploring the philosophy of characters through writing I think we can understand the world in a proactive and exciting way.


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