I have always been aware of how a simple gift can lift a spirit, how a kind remark or compliment can make a day, or even be remembered for years by the recipient. I also know that a mean action or gesture or comment can wound a person for life.

I have analyzed these most of my life. My parents were aware and showed small, meaningful kindnesses to many people. They were kinder and more patient with each other’s family members than they were to each other, (and often to me). I was taught that a good gesture was worth more than anything in the world to most people, and that you should not hurt anyone’s feelings on purpose…(unless it was a close family member, but again, I digress).

I have been pensive of late, remembering small kindnesses that have come my way through the years. Some were no more than a simple phrase, but I took them to heart and they had a bigger effect than the speaker could ever have known…or did they?

I know that cut-to-the-quick remarks by some were meant to hurt me and they did, oh, boy, did they. If I had only seen the reasons when I was younger! But I let them fall away as much as I can now.

All of this is leading to is: Do most writers see this?

In most of what I have tried to read lately, (and note that I said TRIED to read), the writers have used sledgehammers to drive home a point, or repeated themselves until I could scream. “Does he?/ doesn’t he?”  a character thinks all through the book. People are more complex. “Does he this, or does he maybe that. Or, gee, maybe I had it wrong and he the other?”, is really more like it and how we analyze, right? Sometime people get a wrong idea/misconception and those stick, but don’t following words and actions change our thoughts?

In good writing, it does.

In many novels, people are one-dimensional:
1).The all-good, always cheerful, or GASP! There must be something wrong! Let the protagonist straight-out ask them and accept their “I’m fine” answer,(even if he/she  has  doubt, let THAT be repeated interminably through the next 10-20 chapters.

2) The always cantankerous, which will remain so until the end, where they  will make a 180 degree turn around, unless it is a series of books, where it will take at least the first 3 to get them to show what softies they are inside and how really kind they are; people don’t work that way.

3) The continually unscrupulous, who won’t do anything nice, who never have a genuine smile (“ the smile never reaches their eyes”), whose seemingly uncharacteristic good-gestures are always masking ulterior motives.

4) The kindly, older, all-wise  eccentric who knows everything, has all the answers and is never-failing in perfect tea and advice, or has the tool  you need and will fix it all for you, both mechanical and moral.


There are few truly evil people in this world, (although I have met a few that came close). Everyone is a product of their environment and the consequences of their own acts or by those of others with influence over their lives.  Even so, it is a person’s choice as to whether the unkindnesses shown to them will inflict the same to others as ‘payment’, or that they will realize how much they suffered and want to help others avoid the pain. The same with the privileged; do they think that they deserve all that they have been handed in life, (be it material goods, power, health, unconditional love), and lord it over others, feeling superior, or do they realize how fortunate they are and use what they have to help others and/or just to be cognizant of the fact that they are fortunate and not hold those fewer less of their gifts in contempt?

In real life, most of those described above are a mix. Few are all-giving, (they wouldn’t have much to give if they gave it all, even if it is a gift of health), nor are most of those who feel entitled always without kindness and compassion. Kind people can be unthinking and have lapses in charity; many wounded souls unexpectedly show sympathy and generosity; many who generally understand can lash out.

Do we see that in many books? Again, not unless it’s the end and the ‘bad guy’ makes a miraculous conversion and suddenly, where there was a notorious skin-flint, you have another St. Francis. No, we do not often see anything like it.

My mother used to rearrange a quote from one of her favorite authors, (she usually misquoted people, misheard lyrics, etc.) But  she would say: “If you live with someone, you will neither idolize or despise them”, meaning that even a great person has their flaws as a human, and even the worst person will be shown to be human, (in the good way).

Most novels have people as one or the other, or sometimes, within a series or story, both. First bad, who turns good, first good, (or seemingly so), who ends up very bad.

I suppose what I am saying is that I wish more writers made their characters more like real people.

Have you seen what I am talking about?  Does it seem more prevalent these days, or is it that there are more books being published? Is it, perhaps, that ‘classic’ novels became classics because of better-written, more rounded  characters?

I’d love to hear your opinions.


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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10 Responses to Subleties

  1. Kathy says:

    This is so true. I think that’s why the movies that show the reason for the villain’s behavior are usually more popular. No one is bad out of a vacuum. And no one is fully bad. Also, the good characters need to have flaws. But…it’s always so hard to write – it takes work. It’s worth it though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It IS worth it, Kathy, you are right. I don’t understand why more don’t try harder, especially when I know the backgrounds of many writers, or just the fact that they are not young people, and really should have more insight.
      Thank you so much for dropping in!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jeff Salter says:

    many good points here.
    I definitely agree that — whether books or movies — I’m weary of cardboard characters who behave as they do simply because the author needs that behavior to advance the plot.
    In the TV realm, situation comedies are rife with this type character.
    As you seem to, I much prefer layered characters who have good days and bad, good traits and not-so-good… but who have some motivation for what they do. Not simply that the author needs them to be somewhere at a particular point in the scene.
    Moreover, I’m weary of the people who won’t just go ahead and spit it out. The novelist Henry James was horrible about this — I remember one piece I had to read in college in which the entire story was about one character’s longing for another, but despite numerous opportunities, that person could never just spit it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I suppose this is why I loved some secondary characters more than the main ones. Charles Emerson Winchester III from MASH was a snob, but there were so many times that his compassion and care shone through, and he was one of my favorites.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, yes, when they are well-done, Patty and Charles was a favorite of my mother’s and of mine.I can’t tell you how often she quoted him, and I find myself doing the same, even though I have not seen an episode in decades.


  4. cynthiacleaver says:

    I think that’s one of the problems with politics today. And political discussion. It’s so much easier to pigeonhole someone or some group of people. That way you don’t have to consider their point of view at all. We make it all but impossible for our villains and heroes in political life to change their minds about things. It’s really lazy thinking. It is easier, though. So I guess since there is that tendency to view people as one dimensional in real life, it would be easy to do that with our characters, too. Honestly, though, it takes a while to know someone on a more than one dimension.
    For instance, I know someone in a scrapbooking group. Have spent quite a bit of time with her within the group. I see that side of her. Then one day she came to the group from playing with a symphonic band. I was struck by how different her demeanor was, having come from a different side of her identity. She hadn’t quite switched over yet. I suppose that’s one way to give characters more dimension. Who are they in different environments?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I completely agree,Cynthia! I realized that at an early age because I could tell who was on the other end of a phone conversation by the way my mother spoke to them. She use to marvel that I always knew who it was. I suppose that happens with all of us to a certain degree by with whom we are more comfortable, with whom we feel the need to be on our guard with, in a situation that is familiar to us.
      Thanks so much for your time and your input, Cynthia. You added a great deal for us all to think about.


  5. trishafaye says:

    Interesting post giving me a lot to think about with my own characters!
    You are so right. In real-life we are all a mix, never completely one thing, nor always the same. Great food for thought Tonette! Thank you.


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