Character As Fate by Pat Bertram

Heraclitus believed that a person’s character is their fate. Character — the sum total of a person’s traits — influences the choices a person makes, and the consequences of those choices ultimately become that person’s destiny. Or not. Much of life is luck, happenstance, and totally out of our control, though we tend to believe we have much more control over our lives than we really do. But that’s not an issue here because this is a writing discussion, and in our story worlds everything is under our control, and what our characters do determine their own fate.

This is most obvious in a tragedy — a character comes to an unhappy end because of a flaw in his or her own character, though in today’s stories, because readers like a more optimistic ending, that fatal flaw is often balanced by a special strength. But character/fate works for other types of stories, such as a thriller where a character becomes obsessed with finding the truth, and that obsession leads to both the character’s fate and the end of the story.

For example, In Daughter Am I, a young woman is determined to find out the truth of who her grandparents were and why someone wanted them dead. That determination overrides her usual placidity and takes her on a journey that eventually leads her home again, changed forever. She really did find her destiny because of her character.

I wonder if the opposite is more true (if truth has degrees), that destiny is character. Does what happens to us, both the actions under our control and those beyond our control, determine who we are? Determine who our characters are? This was a theme I explored in More Deaths Than One. So much happened to my poor hero Bob that was not under his control, yet what was under his control — how he handled his fate — made him the man he became.

Any discussion about fate and writing would also have to include the question: does the writer’s fate affect the character’s fate? None of my books have totally happy endings. There is always a pinprick of unease in the background, but the book I am now contemplating — the story of a woman going through grief — is going to have even less of a happy ending. Perhaps because I know the ending of my own love story? Not my story, obviously, since I’m still here, but the story I shared with another. Except for my work in progress (the one that’s been stalled all these years) the stories I’m thinking about writing now all end up with the characters alone.

When I wrote the first draft of my novel More Deaths Than One (and the second draft and the third) I had the hero Bob meandering around his world trying to unravel his past all by himself, and it was boring. Did I say boring? It was moribund. The story went nowhere because there was no one for Bob to butt heads with.

In the fourth draft of More Deaths Than One, I gave Bob a love interest, a waitress he met at a coffee shop. (Hey, so it’s been done before. The poor guy spent eighteen years in Southeast Asia, and didn’t know anybody stateside. How else was he supposed to meet someone?) That’s when the story took off. He had someone to butt heads with, someone to ooh and aah over his achievements, someone to be horrified at what had been done to him.

From that, I learned the importance of writing scenes with more than one character. And yet here I am, once more falling into the black hole of writing a character alone.

Which leads me to my final question: could the fate of the character also influence the writer’s fate? If so, maybe I should decide where I want to go from here, and write my destiny.


Pat Bertram is the author of Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I.All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.  At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free!


Filed under books, life, Pat Bertram, writing

3 responses to “Character As Fate by Pat Bertram

  1. Hi Pat,

    There is a lot to be said about whether a character makes his fate or fate makes the character.

    I’m certain I would be a different person today if I had lived a different life. The events of my life made me, and at the same time my own choices shape my life, like a dance. The same goes for characters in a story.

    I think the same applies to writing. While we shape our characters into who they are, they are also shaping us into who we are. In writing we tackle our own questions about life and self, our inner demons and dreams.

    Sometimes all a character needs is a “Wilson” (Castaway).

    • In my poor stalled work in progress, I use a succession of Wilsons, which worked quite well. The theme of the book is about how much freedom we will give up for security and how much security we will give up for freedom, and how in the end, it comes down to responsibility. Maybe I have the theme all wrong. Maybe it should be what you want freedom from and what you want freedom for. Perhaps that’s why the thing has stalled. I hadn’t yet lived the story so I couldn’t write it. Well, now I have the freedom that comes from aloneness, and I have to figure out what to do with it. Perhaps that’s the secret to why he leaves the secure place — he figured out what he wanted freedom for.

      I might have that wrong, too. Maybe he went into the secure place not for security, but simply freedom from the insanity of the apocalyptic world.

      What I’m getting at is that perhaps this book’s fate is bound up with mine more than I knew.

  2. christinehusom

    So much of our destiny is determined, not only by circumstances and other people, but also by the the core person we are. Natural born leaders are sought to say yes to being club president. A person might not have as much natural talent as another, but his drive leads him to pursue success as an athlete, or as a musician. Some of the most brilliant people settle for low-end jobs because either they don’t have ambition, or the encoragement they need from another, or an unplanned event sends them done a different road.

    I know if I had followed a different course many years ago, I would have a very different life today. I think that’s true for most of us. The more people you have in your life, (by choice, or not) and the more organizations you’re involved with, all add new dimensions, and happy, sad, tragic, and esctatic moments and experiences.

    I know I have grown because of my relationships. As authors, we tend to work in our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs through one character or another.

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