This morning’s Writer’s Almanac had an interesting quote from Raymond Chandler, discussing Philip Marlowe, the protagonist of his novel The Big Sleep:
He must be the best man in his world and good enough for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.
While I’m not versed in Chandler’s work, I’m not sure I agree with this approach to character.
People are many different things, especially in different settings and around different people in their lives. We aren’t the same person with our parents as we are with our lovers.
The same holds true in my own life: one of my first jobs out of college was as the Director of Youth Ministry at an Episcopal church. When not leading fundraisers or planning the annual mission trip, I was dabbling in drugs, sleeping around, and getting into all the typical twenty-something mischief. Then I’d roll out of bed and sober up just in time to make it to church on Sunday morning.
As Robert McKee points says, character is contradiction.
We are all many things at once. The same should be true for our characters.