Mastering the ambiguous character

reading2Imagine two different stories with a peculiar similarity. In one the romantic male lead was described as having olive skin and dark hair and eyes. In the other he had tanned skin and raven black hair–both basically 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 story the man is ignorant of the culture and makes an offensive motion towards the father whose bodyguards prepare to protect him. Then, rather than realizing his mistake, the guy pulls out a weapon only to be told to put it away. Despite the young man’s advanced education, he is obviously tall, dark and not too good at dealing with people.

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

In one tale, the tall, dark and handsome man would defend the young woman, and in the other he would betray her. Could you guess which?

If you were actually reading each story there would be no problem. Both of the young ladies are mind readers! Each teenage female protagonist has a strong premonition to inform readers 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 others on a day to day basis.

So why did the authors imbue these young females with the supernatural ability to read minds without bothering to inform the reader? Because describing the subtle signs of deceit and trustworthiness is difficult. Therefore, they took the same short cut of using uncannily accurate intuition as foreshadowing to tell the true nature of these two tall, dark and handsome men. Otherwise one must show how humans reveal their true nature through actions and speech, and the reader must become involved in interpreting these words and actions.

The balancing act of surprising the reader and while making actions seem plausible is based on the skills portraying ambiguity in characters, making them a mix of both good and bad to the point that strongest side is not easily evident. Instead the authors went for the reversal—the hot-headed young man turns out to be protective and the polite one is calloused. So, in the end readers have to deal with two men that are tall, dark and illogical.