The Teleology of Character

Definition of Teleology (from the online Merriam Webster dictionary):

1.a : the study of evidences of design in nature
    b : a doctrine (as in vitalism) that ends are immanent in nature
    c : a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes

2 : the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose

3 : the use of design or purpose as an explanation of natural phenomena

Lent is over. Holy week is on us and, therefore, my children are on their spring break. I have time to think and breathe and move forward with the tasks at hand. I’ve completed my vow of forgoing writing for lent. I would jump right in again were it not for my brain which, unfortunately, spins in so many different directions on any given day that I have difficulty focusing. It’s only when asleep that my mind is still enough to focus.

Without dreams, I would probably not be a writer at all. It’s mainly in my dream world that my mind works out the plots for stories.The other night, I dreamed a beautiful story, as if in preparation for holy week when I could begin to write again. And then I suffered from three sleepless nights in a row. I’ve been thinking far too much about character, motivation, and personality types and, as my husband puts it, I haven’t given my mind the permission to sleep. I’ve given myself the permission to write, but not to sleep.

Well, how am I supposed to write w/o sleep? Instead, I continue pondering personalities and examining them in published works of fiction. Have you noticed that some characters don’t feel quite right? Their reactions or lack of them are helpful to the story or the message the author is forwarding, but they don’t ring true. I’ve been attempting to understand this phenomenon, this instinctive knowing that the characters whose eyes I’m seeing through are pure fiction, especially while also knowing that all fictional characters are unreal, even the ones who seem genuine. They are all fabricated, and some are false fabrications, while others are true.

Understanding personality types aids in understanding characters. It has its limits, however, because people are greater than their types. They have unique histories and genetics, individual ways of representing themselves to the world. Understanding their basic fears and desires in relation to their own environment is important. Understanding them in light of a larger inner working of mankind–what Jung calls the collective unconscious–is perhaps the most crucial element of all. How characters respond or conversely ignore teleology is fascinating to me, and may give reason for my gag response to far too many Christian salvation scenes.

And all of this is to express my frustration that characters are as elusive as the people they are supposed to represent–so much more complex than their eye color, which is complex enough, and whether they are spontaneous or organized, introverted versus extroverted.

p.s. And as for the image above, what exactly motivated the Baron to cut a lock of Belinda’s hair, anyway? Alexander Pope understood characters and people very well, I think (except himself, of course).



  1. I love that you dig deeping into the personalities and motivations of characters– I bet they are so much more real!

  2. Terri, I don't know about that. Instinct is perhaps a better guide, even if it sometimes leads us astray. The proof's in the pudding, though, right? I have no idea what that expression means! đŸ™‚

  3. My mind spins, and it's difficult for me to make decisions. I think I force myself into decision making when I'm asleep.

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