Mastering the ambiguous character

reading2Recently I started reading two different stories with a peculiar similarity. In one the romantic male lead had olive skin, and dark hair and eyes. The other had tanned skin and raven black hair–both variations of tall, dark and handsome. In both tales of romance, the young man meets the adolescent girl’s father first, as the daughter observes him. In one narrative, the tall, dark and handsome man would defend the young woman, and in the other he would betray her. Can you guess which?

The first young man is ambitious and ignorant of the culture, He makes an offensive motion towards the father whose bodyguards prepare to protect him. Then, rather than realizing his mistake, he pulls out a weapon only to be told to his embarrassment to put it away. Despite the young man’s high level of education he is obviously tall, dark and not too good at dealing with people.

In second tale involves loving parents arranging a marriage for their teenage daughter. They have invited the young man to dine with them. He attempts make jovial conversation, as he discusses the father’s interest, which is breeding dogs. He suggests that they would be excellent for hunting. But the father is against having his dogs hunt. The young man could feel rebuffed by father but remains polite.

Deciding which tall, dark and handsome man is the true gem would be easy if you were actually reading this story. Both of the young ladies are mind readers! That’s right, despite no warning of this supernatural ability, each teenage female protagonist has a strong premonition that informs the readers exactly how each man turns out in the end.

As a person who spent years teaching high school I don’t weigh the feelings of adolescents highly when determining the future. Often, they struggle to understand other’s motives on a day to day basis. So why did the authors imbue these young females with the supernatural ability to read minds? Because describing the subtle signs of deceit and trustworthiness is difficult. Therefore, the writers took the same short cut and used uncannily accurate intuition as foreshadowing.

The balancing act of surprising the reader  while making actions plausible is based on the skill of portraying ambiguity in characters. Authors must to work at revealing conflicted characteristics through actions and speech. The driven and impetuous young man who brandishes the weapon should sometimes seem weak or indecisive when questioning if he should behave in this outwardly brash manner. The well-behaved young man should have friends or servants showing wariness due to their knowledge that a polite exterior hid a self-serving interior. But that did not occur.

Both male characters needed to display a mix of good and bad traits which the reader would have to interpret. Instead the authors focused on the physical descriptions of the men. Then, they chose a sudden reversal (supposedly to shake the reader awake). The hot-headed young man turns out to be protective, and the polite one was actually calloused. However, as I continued through each story I realized that I had to deal with two men that were tall, dark, and implausible. That last characteristic is not attractive to me—no matter how handsome the character is.

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