This week’s quote comes from Young Adult author, Cassandra Clare, who is best known for her popular ‘Mortal Instruments’ series, which has recently been turned into a film franchise.
I am an avid reader (as, I assume, most other writers are too), I read a wide and varied array of books from differing genres and would like to think of myself as fairly well-read. I read for fun – as well as professional purposes – and there are are certain elements that I expect from the books I read, one of the most important being a sense of realism.
To really get emotionally involved in a book I must first of all be able to relate or empathize with the story’s protagonist, if I cannot do this, I know that I am unlikely to care much for what happens in the book as a whole. Perhaps this is a personal prejudice, borne from my own complicated childhood and early adult life, but I simply cannot stand characters that are too ‘perfect’.
It has been my experience throughout life so far that no one is perfect. None of us are truly good or evil, we are complex and intriguing individuals whose behaviour is based on our own set of unique life experiences. If I am reading your book, PLEASE do not give me characters that are not only good-looking/fit/muscular/pretty/handsome, but are also angelic-like beings who can do no wrong – the kind of people that everyone except the cliched ‘bad guy’ loves.
For one, it is lazy storytelling. Nothing will turn me off of a book quicker than a perfect hero or heroine. I don’t want to read about a character who can do no wrong. I want to read about a character who is conflicted, who has issues, who doesn’t always make the right choices at the right times. What is a story without some sort of internal conflict for the protagonist? I’ll tell you: a pretty damn boring one, if you ask me!
When I read a book, I want pain, suffering, tears, agony, joy, love, confusion, happiness, sorrow….and I want all of them weaved into a story-world that I can relate to. Yes, reading is a form of escapism, but it also needs to be grounded in realism. How can you let a character grip you if you can’t relate to them in some way?
Having read my fair share of books with the perfect hero or heroine, I work hard to ensure that I don’t create those kinds of characters in my own stories. I’m not perfect and so it stands to reason that the characters I create should not be either. Writing is good for the soul and helps me to work through some of my own conflicts and, consciously or not, it seems reasonable that some of this will bleed into the stories I create.
I don’t want to write cliched stories, I want to write the kinds of books that will hook a reader, reel them in gradually and then refuse to let them go until the tale is finished. It may be a lofty aspiration, but paying heed to keeping my characters grounded in some sort of realism is a good place to start.