Recently I’ve spoken about some characters and how aspects of those characters are ‘perfect’, ‘flawless’, or even ‘saintly’. How terrible things happen to these characters, yet they come away unscathed with no lasting physical or emotional scars. In other cases, they are just perfect throughout the entire story; always making the right decisions, never having to worry about ramifications, and never losing their temper or even being affected.
We see this often in kids movies and YA fiction. Too often they are the product of how the writers THINK kids behave (seriously, you can tell which ones have kids and which don’t), or how the believe kids SHOULD behave. I like to refer to this as the ‘Brady Bunch Effect’ even though some of these are arguably worse than the characters in that show. These characters are usually so stale that when a bully does something to them, and then turns around and accuses them of the same crime, the character will just stand there and accept the punishment, despite having done nothing wrong.
I’ve spoken about this trope before as it’s honestly one of the few times you’ll find me screaming at a book. It literally drives me insane. There is no rhyme or reason for this other than the fact that these characters are, by nature, frustratingly passive. This causes a whole load of other problems, but that’s a conversation of already had.
Back on track…
What is wrong with perfect characters? Well for starters, they aren’t actually characters. They aren’t dimensional, they don’t grow, they don’t change, and there is little to nothing dynamic about them. They are perfect character ‘archetypes’. As such, they are not relate-able and by default are also very unlikable. Most people I’ve spoken to find these types of characters frustrating as you spend most of the story hoping to see a reaction or some ounce of humanity that they can attach to.
For people to be able to relate to a character, that character needs to have traits that an audience can attach to. Contrary to the beliefs of some, that includes flaws. Your character has to have flaws… and no, what I said about a character being so perfect that they’re not relate-able is not a flaw, that’s a cop out. They need to have a realistic flaw, being a character flaw, a fear, a temper, a naivety, something that normal people have.
Maybe they made a bad decision that landed them in a situation that members of the audience can relate to? Hindsight is 20/20 and we don’t always know what the right decision is.
This is likely the reason why people are gravitating towards tragic villains and anti-heroes.
So how do we write characters that people can relate to?
I’m sorry to say this, but if you don’t know how to do that, you need to stop writing. Put the pen down or turn the computer off, because if you’re writing characters the way I mentioned above, you’re going to run into problems.
My advice is to stop and think of someone you know that you like. Why do you like them? What about them do you relate to? Explore those things and figure out that person’s positive and negative traits. If that doesn’t work, go out in public and just listen to people. Listen to their stories, listen to their conversations (without being creepy) and think about what they have to say. It should help.
Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.
I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.
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Catch you on the flip side!
your post inspired me to list my characters in my Work in Progress and think about how each one changes as the story unfolds. Thanks!
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