Defamation of character is often achieved by talking behind someone’s back. However, when developing a character for a novel, other characters can also speak well of that character.
The point is that, in fiction and in life, a lot of times you are what people say you are.
Let’s see how this is done.
Shape The Reader’s Expectations
If the only impression of someone that you have comes from other people you will develop an opinion of that person even before you meet them.
They could be talking about all the good deeds that character does and you begin to see him in a good light.
They mention that he has done all these great things even though he is homeless because he lost his job and his family due to some great tragedy.
Well, now this character becomes something more.
You may see him as being more that just good, but noble.
You will also start to feel empathy for his situation and perhaps want to see him succeed.
But, those same characters could speak poorly of this other character. Perhaps, they say, he’s just gotten out of prison. He did 10 years for stealing the life savings from little old ladies.
Well, that’s some real defamation of character!
And, so your opinion of him changes.
But Is It True?
At this point the only opinion you have of the character in question has been shaped by what others have said behind his back.
You have developed a picture of this character in your mind.
But, what if the character does not match your picture?
Perhaps this noble and giving character, for whom you had pity because he’s also homeless, is a real scum bag?
Perhaps he’s a drug dealing, philandering, F-Bomb dropping con man.
This doesn’t match your preexisting impression, does it?
This Is How You Build Character And Develop Plot
So now what is real and what is not?
Were the other characters lying to try to deceive you? Can they be trusted?
Or, perhaps, they were telling the truth.
Perhaps this character is both noble and disgusting at the same time.
Wow! What to believe? It’s a real house of mirrors. Perhaps I should keep reading.
In one situation you are creating drama. The reader no longer knows who to trust.
In the other situation you are developing complexity of character.
In both situations you keep the reader reading and moving the plot forward.
Do you see how this defamation of character technique can be very powerful in developing characters and creating drama?
Use it for a character’s benefit or his detriment, but use it!
It will create much more realistic and powerful fiction. Because in life, a lot of times you are what people say you are.
Or are you?
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