Your Fav is Problematic: You Shouldn’t Love Your Character

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Dear sweet 8 pound 6 ounce Baby Jesus where has this month gone. I feel like I am finding less and less time to write because of work, family, birthdays, Christmas, Thursday night D&D with the gang, and finals. Hopefully if and when I survive to January I can get more work done.

So, this week I’d like to talk a little bit about your characters, specifically your protagonist(s). I had finished my first draft and I am reading through it to make editing noted for the first revision. I am reading the interaction between the two main protagonists, Aki, the Autumn Mage and Minda, the female soldier and part-time healer. They got along famously. It was as if they were brother and sister, constantly looking out for each other and being very cordial and making a wonderful team. It warmed my heart at how close they were and how well they worked together. I sat back in my chair and I screamed on the inside.

What the heck Chris?!?! Aki is moody, reckless, and frankly, a bit of an asshole. Minda should have an air of superiority and class which should clash with how rough around the edges Aki is. They are not related. They are not siblings. Push. Everything is not going to be sunshine and roses with them. And then I looked at how Aki spoke to other main characters and he was too darn nice to them.

Writing is a process. There’s usually some sort of outline and then a separate outline for the characters and then a separate outline for locations and then a separate outline for just how crazy you should be by the time it’s all said and done. And if by the time you are on revisions and you have not strayed away from the original source or original outlines and everything is just a carbon copy of what you started with, it probably isn’t strong enough.

Now, going back to the title of this post: sure, you can “love” your character. I’m sure J.K. Rowling loves Harry Potter. The billions of dollars might have some sort of influence with that, but she probably still loves him. But using Harry Potter as an example: neither he nor Hermoine, the other sort of crowd favorite from Team Gryffindor, the bunch of whiny goody-two-shoes that I am in no way dissing just because I’m Team Slytherin, have some glaring character flaws. Firstly, Harry has a freaking piece of Wizard Hitler living inside of him, and a fan theory actually suggests that it is because of this that his adoptive family hates him so much (which has since been disproved by Rowling herself). He is arrogant and brash and impulsive, kind of the same way that Anakin Skywalker is in Episode 2 (but, y’know, less murder). And then we had CAPS LOCKS HARRY WHO SHOUTED AT EVERYONE AND JUST COULDN’T BE REASONED WITH. Remember that book? We had fun.

Hermoine, on the other hand, in the books and sadly not the films is what is referred to as a white girl feminist, who goes out of her way to tell people to be outraged about things they have no interest in and she has really not a lot of business getting involved with. I know she was just trying to go magical social justice warrior, probably in an attempt to fit in better in a world where she could actually experience a degree of racism in, but it really fell flat.

But this is how it should be. If your admiration for your own character lasts more than four hours, please contact your editor. Your characters should be flawed, because if they are they will feel more like people and less like people you wrote. Think about someone you really care about, and think about that one annoying thing they always do. Go with that. Or maybe think back to your lying, cheating, whore ex (sorry not sorry) and try to understand why they justified the things that they did. Use that as motivation for your bad guys. Your characters need to be relatable and they need to not be perfect.

The best villains are ones that show a little humanity. I hate slasher films because they’re dumb. It’s an hour and a half of an unkillable monster carving up horny teenagers. I can’t relate to that. Darth Vader? Hecks yes. A kid who grew up from a rough childhood who has a ton of responsibility thrown on to him who doesn’t know how to form healthy relationships and is constantly in some way or another a slave to others? That is relatable. That is human. The choking people out with his mind? Not so much. But his back story and his motivation are very human, even though he has completely lost his way and has become more machine than man now.

Your hero also has to be human. He or she can’t simply be an amazing fantastic wonderful person with no flaws. One, it’s boring. Remember Becki from 11th grade? Blonde, blue eyed, tall, athletic, straight A’s, debate team, cheerleading, voluntered, went to Harvard or something? Yeah, she was perfect. Remember how boring she was? Remember that one time you actually tried talking to her and all she could talk about was her cat and Taylor Swift? It was awful. Don’t write Becki. Write Chad. Chad was cool. Chad was thrown off the baseball team because he said all that pot at that party was his, even though he didn’t smoke any of it because he really didn’t want Jonathon to lose his athletics scholarship for next year.

Make them vulnerable. Make them relatable. Make them human. Every single one. If their boring to write, they will be boring to read. And if you’re not having fun your readers won’t have fun. Challenge yourself by challenging them. Give them moral dilemmas. Give them vices. Give them painful memories. I know they are your sweet, precious, children, but you need to torture them a little bit. Watch them squirm. Let them fail once in a while, let the bad guys win one. Make things interesting by making them interesting. You’ll thank me later.

If you’d like to continue reading my work in progress THE AUTUMN MAGE chapters three and four are now up on Wattpad. Give them a look, and please let me know what you think. And if you like what I have to say please like, comment, and share, and I’ll try to get more postings here more frequently.

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