This is the most powerful tool in a writer’s arsenal when writing the emotionally engaging character. Every character has to have bias in order to feel authentic.
What is bias? I’m glad you asked because I found this great definition off of Dreamstime.com:
When we’re dealing with bias, we’re not concerned with the character being right. The character can be completely wrong. But in the character’s mind, they ARE right.
How many times have we seen people get into religious and political debates based on bias? Facebook is full of them. And guess what? I’d guess the people giving their opinion on those topics believe they are right. Sometimes it’s interesting to read through the threads and see how they justify their point of view because it gives great insight into how human nature works.
Knowing how human nature works helps us develop emotionally engaging characters because they’re easier to relate to. The more your characters act like real people, the more emotionally engaging they are going to be.
Will letting your characters be human (with their own biases) annoy some readers? You bet. Why? Because everyone who reads your book will be coming to the story with their own bias. There’s bound to be some trait in your flawed (very human) character that is going to trigger some irritation from someone.
For example, I wrote a book a couple years ago where the reader wanted to smack the heroine for giving the hero a hard time. Upon asking the reader if the behavior would have bothered her had the hero been doing it, she said no. She was surprised by her own response. But what she found out was that she’s more accepting of a man being “difficult” than for a woman to be the same way. That is her bias that she is coming to the story with.
Another reader, by the way, loved the heroine because she didn’t put up with any crap. She stood up for herself, and the reader respected her for that.
And this proves taste is subjective. You can’t please everyone all the time. All you can do is let your characters be who they are. You are not your characters. Your characters are their own people. Dare to write characters who see the world from a completely different bias than you do. This helps to keep writing fresh and will make your characters come alive in a brand new way.
An exercise that might be helpful is to close your eyes (or get out your pen) and imagine two characters who are complete opposites. Maybe they’re sisters, and one loved their mother while another hated her. Or take two students. One thinks the assignment is easy and the other thinks it’s hard. If you really want to delve into the difficult topics, dare to write two characters (both good guys) who are on opposite ends of the political spectrum with each side giving convincing arguments to justify their bias.
Compare how their bias toward a situation influences how they think. What might their past experiences be that led to the particular bias they have? Remember, neither side is wrong in their bias. They are right. It’s just the “how” they justify they’re right that is all important when you’re looking into creating authentic characters.