You are essentially who you create yourself to be and all that occurs in your life is the result of your own making.
Referring to someone as a ‘character’ can be a compliment or an insult. Whether we are blessing or cursing these individuals, one thing is certain: a ‘character’ is someone who stands out.
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, declared that ‘A man’s character is his fate’, and we are not surprised when someone we consider to be of dubious character acts in a corrupt way. For example, the detective investigating the allegations against my abuser acted, at the very least, in an unorthodox manner and I had no faith in him. It came as no shock to me, then, when I discovered five years ago that he had been found guilty of perverting the course of justice and sent to prison.
Similarly, individuals who behave with integrity and diligence deservedly reap the rewards. I see tennis player Andy Murray as an example of this type of person. Andy works hard to achieve the results he desires and has two Grand slam titles, an Olympic Gold Medal and numerous other titles to show for his efforts.
Anne Frank surmised that the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands: we can create our own character in much the same way as a writer creates a fictional character, choosing the traits and behaviours that we want to exemplify. It is not uncommon for writers to complete detailed character sketches for their protagonists (and antagonists) in order to add depth and substance to their creations. Details, alongside the obvious such as occupation and physical appearance, include:
- Family background and family relationships.
- Attitudes (to religion, for example).
- Favourite pastimes, hobbies, sports, food, film and television programmes.
- Positive and negative personality traits.
- How other people see him / her
- Ambitions and world view / philosophy on life.
- Turns of phrase and unique vocabulary.
Attributing such details fleshes out a character and brings them to life. As an experiment, some time ago I tried completing one of these character sketches in relation to myself. For my first attempt I described myself exactly how I saw myself at the time. The result was less than inspiring. For example I wrote ‘would-be coach and writer’ as my job, and ‘I have no idea how others see me. Possibly as a bit weak and feeble? Or they see my potential but recognise my fear’.
A few months later I revisited the exercise and decided to rewrite my character sketch as the person I aspire to be. The difference was significant; particularly given that I made sure my aspirations were realistic and achievable. The ‘new and improved’ me was a more rounded, vibrant character whose shoes I felt motivated stepping into. I make a habit of referring to my upgraded image of myself whenever I’m feeling unenthusiastic or discouraged. It reminds me that I can be whoever it is in my power to be and so gives me a boost when I need one.
Choosing to embody an enhanced version of me, rather than settling for a limited self-view illustrates E.M. Forster’s assertion, in Aspects of the Novel, that characters can be either flat or round. Forster maintains that flat people are not in themselves as big achievements as round ones. A serious or tragic flat character is apt to be a bore. This could be said to be true of real as well as fictional characters.
Forster also writes that both the inner and outer lives of fictional characters can be depicted by the writer. In this way, Forster suggests, we come to understand people in novels more completely than we do our own friends and family members. Perhaps this explains their appeal, for as Alexander McCall Smith has pointed out, fictional characters can seem very real to their readers, and even become part of their lives.
Could it be that in the same way a fictional character seems real the more we know about him or her, we, too, become more fully realised human beings the more we know and understand ourselves? This comes back to the philosophical maxim Know Thyself.
I wonder, too: does our investment in, and identification with, fictional characters point to an unconscious desire to be fully known for who we really are? Others can’t possibly know the real you unless you know yourself, and the best way to know yourself is for you to determine who you are.
Who we are changes throughout our lives; our experiences change us, sometimes dramatically. The formation of character is thus a process of discovery and rediscovery. We can reinvent our own character whenever we feel the need to. Indeed, as we pass through each stage of our lives it may be advisable. Actress Jacqueline Bisset, who at 69 is still considered a beauty (without recourse to botox or ‘fillers’), says:
Character contributes to beauty. It fortifies a woman as her youth fades. A mode of conduct, a standard of courage, discipline, fortitude and integrity can do a great deal to make a woman beautiful.
Try putting character into your character! It will stand you in good stead on physical and emotional levels and therefore enhance your life.