*Warning: This post contains spoilers in regards to the narrative and characters from the novel Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Read at your own risk if you have not read the book or seen any of the adaptations.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Sense and Sensibility to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
For romantic love to last what will hopefully be a lifetime, it requires three key ingredients: commitment, compromise and the willingness to stand by your significant other through good times and bad. Unfortunately, some people are unwilling or unable to do what is stated above to make love last. John Willoughby is one of these people.
The reader is introduced to Mr. Willoughby in the most romantic way possible: he rescues one of the novel’s heroines, Marianne Dashwood. Marianne falls and twists her ankle during a rainstorm. He sweeps her off her feet, both literally and figuratively. The heir to a local estate, he is handsome, charming and outgoing. It look like Mr. Willoughby and Marianne are headed for wedded bliss, if only he would propose. Then he disappears without much of an explanation and it all goes south from there.
Like all of Austen’s male baddies, Mr. Willoughby is all charm with nothing beneath the charm. His smooth manners and easy conversations conceal a man whose motives are cold and selfish. He only cares for his own desires and does not care for the feelings of someone else.
To sum it up: Willoughby is a jerk, to say the least. However, the reader/audience member does not know that initially. That is the fun of reading and where the writer’s work truly begins. It’s like a magic act where the magician is telling the audience to look at their left hand, but the real trick is in their right hand.
A complete 180 switch for a character is never easy, especially when the audience/reader thinks that they have an idea of who this person is. The writer must create such a convincing character, that when this 180 switch occurs, it creates a ripple effect that completely changes the rest of the narrative and how this character is viewed. Without that complete convincing of knowing who this character is, the reveal will lose its power and the reader will not be compelled to continue with the story.