Thoughts for Friday – 21st March 2014

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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.

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10 Comments

Filed under Thoughts for Friday

10 responses to “Thoughts for Friday – 21st March 2014

  1. Excellent advice. I’ve never liked stories featuring ‘Mary Sue’ characters. You’re absolutely correct – nothing is less gripping than a character without conflict.

    I tend to veer toward characters riddled with imperfections in my story; I’ve always found them much more interesting and much more FUN to write about.

    • I totally agree, Kate. I cannot stand stories that have the dreaded ‘Mary-Sue’-type characters in them. A story simply MUST have conflict in order for it to be interesting and plausible to the reader. Writing about complex characters is always much more fun!

  2. A great post, and very true. Characters need to feel relatable and real, to make a connection with the reader that keeps them backing them throughout the story 🙂

    • Totally true. Characters have to make a connection with the reader, otherwise, who would want to spend hours of their precious free time reading about someone who they don’t actually care about?

      Conflict and complex characters should be front and centre in every story. Well, in my opinion anyway 🙂

  3. I’m in agreement, there’s nothing more boring than perfect characters. You’re right, no-one in real life is perfect. My favourite characters are always the ones with issues, flaws and a shady past. If you can’t relate in some way to the characters in a book (or anything) then it’s like watching a documentary. Great post by the way, always a fun topic! 🙂

    • Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Given a choice, I would much read a book where the characters are imperfect and conflict is rife. None of us our perfect and so it stands to reason that the characters we read about should not be either. A reader needs to emotionally invest in the characters in a book, otherwise what’s the point in reading it?

  4. This is a fantastic post and very true!
    ~SAT

  5. “reading is a form of escapism, but it also needs to be grounded in realism.”
    –I guess that when a story is grounded in ‘realism’, one is able to relate to the character a lot more than the ‘hero/heroine’. I think about how you also said, “It has been my experience throughout life so far that no one is perfect. None of us are truly good or evil”. Have you seen the movie “Crash” with Sandra Bullock and Matt Dillon? It is a great depiction of this. The movie is all about racism and it’s victims and offenders. My husband really enjoyed it because it really shows that, even if someone seems perfect, they actually aren’t. No one is perfect. The movie actually shows that “victims of racism are often shown to be racist themselves in different contexts and situations.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crash_(2004_film).
    🙂

    • Hi, Staci, thanks for reading and commenting on this post. I have seen the film ‘Crash’ and I found it quite interesting in the portrayal of the main characters and how they were shown to be complex human beings rather than cardboard cutouts of how we would view the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’.

      I think any good story needs the reader to be able to connect with the characters, otherwise there is nothing to keep the reader coming back and wanting more. There’s nothing worse than reading a book about a character who you couldn’t care less about (and I’ve read a few of those in my time…..) 🙂

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