Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In MY Humble Opnion...

Today I'd like to look at another "micro-characterization" tool- Opinions

Everyone has opinions.  I do. You do. My cat DEFINATELY does.  Our characters do.  Readers do.  There are good ones and bad ones, silly ones and superstitious ones.  But we all have them.

People spend an unhealthy amount of time arguing about them. Which is sort of silly and a waste of time when you think of it- most folks rarely let go of their opinions. At least not through argument* (more on that later ;)).

Since we want to make our characters feel as real to our readers as possible, we need to give them opinions too.  Some, depending on the character, might be annoying or hopelessly misguided.

But a good writer can convey a huge amount of information about a character by using the power of opinion:

1) How does the character expresses their opinions to others? Does your character whisper them?  Keep them short?  Not say them at all and they are only seen through internal dialogue?  When they do speak of them, do they preface everything with, "In my opinion..."  --if so where is the emphasis?  Are they implying that their opinion is vital OR that they realize that all people have opinions and they are citing one, and not treating it as fact?

2) It can also subtly show an insecurity-

Have you ever been around a person who always states their opinion in a declarative manner?  "That is the worst restaurant ever, everyone thinks so." If the restaurant in question is still standing and open then most likely that declarative sentence is wrong.  The speaker, although sounding forceful and sure of themselves, is actually showing an insecurity.  Somewhere inside they don't believe in their own worth that their opinion has value- so if they love something, or hate it, they try to make their opinion sound like fact and will include phantom "others" as being in agreement with them. This would be a great trait to build into the right character, and they could be called out on it--or not. 

3) Using facpinons (my own made up word for the above phenomenon) to degrade or weaken others- using them to keep a weaker personality under their thumb (not only a tool for the bad guys here- good guys and gals might do it too--without thinking of it).

4*) An excellent way to exhibit some of the changes your character makes throughout the story arc.  Most folks don't change opinions readily--even if you think you've won an argument with a friend or loved one, you might not have changed their core opinion about the situation.  They may have just gotten tired of fighting with you.  So, if opinions don't change easily--then if they do change that's a good way to show how your character's world view has changed.  Obviously, it wouldn't be the only thing to change, but it's a part that can be used overtly or subtly to help shape the character.

So, in my opinion, opinions are a handy tool oft times over looked by writers ;).  Have you seen other ways to use them?  Have you read anything that worked really well (or didn't?).

Thanks for coming by!


  1. Did you hear a great boom out on the west coast as the light bulb over my head exploded on with a thousand watts worth of "why didn't I think of that"?

    I've been thinking about opinions like; everybody has one. My characters included. So?

    They are such a quick and easy way to give personality traits without huge amounts of internal dialogue.

    All strangers are trouble. Fact? No, opinion.
    All aliens want to kill you. Fact? No, opinion.
    Beauty equals goodness. Fact? No. opinion.

    Each of these opinions says volumes about a character.

    I've only been using opinions as a way to deliver facts about the thing being facpinoned. All my hero's facpinons have been used to show truths about the world he lives in, instead of being windows into his soul. What a waste.

    Thanks for the post,

  2. LOL!! I DID! I thought we were having an earthquake-good to know it was just you ;). Well, you may have not been taking full advantage of the them in this book- but you will in the next!

    Excellent use of "facpinions" btw ;)

    Thanks for commenting!

    Marie- stuck at day job, can't get on Blogger

  3. I don't think I use opinions much in my stories, although I probably should. There's just so many things to consider when I'm writing, I need to draw up a list and tape it to the computer screen.

    1. Actually, that might be a good idea, Ken! (and one I'll be stealing- thank you!). Maybe a little board next to my computer with "don't forget..." then also add it to the look for list for editing. That will save my brain trying to rem it all! (and it thanks you too!)

      Thanks for coming and commenting!


  4. Great post as always, Marie,
    Here's my opinion about a related and intertwined facet of opinions, the unreliable narrator. This is character whose world view is shown in dialogue and thought and is warped or misleading. The reader will think of them as wrong headed (because they have a different opinion or they know the facts0 or the reader will be fooled about the direction of the story because one of the characters says this or that will happen. Sally says, Jersey cows were first bred in New Jersey by her grandfather as a statement of fact. Many people in real life hold beliefs so strongly they become facts in their minds. I find unreliable characters to be the most intriguing, memorable and at the same time the most difficult to write (because, in my case, I have to fight the urge to be logical or fact check etc.)

    Thanks again for your insights,

    1. Thanks, Bob- and very interesting insights! I think the unreliable narrator character can be an awesome tool.

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!