Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Writer Wednesday

Characters can make a break a story, no question. The problem is, readers and writers have different opinions of what a good character is. In my mind, there are three different types of characters:  realistic characters, role models, and fantasy characters.

Realistic characters are those characters often found in contemporary fiction (though, definitely present in all genres). These characters are real. They are the people you meet on the street, your friends, your family, you. They have good and bad aspects of themselves that are portrayed throughout the novel. And, their flaws are not the type of "I'm too loving, that's why I'm over-protective" type of flaws. They're real flaws like, "I'm stubborn and kind of moody," or "I lie a lot."

GOOD: Realistic characters feel real. You can relate to them and see yourself in their shoes. You can also watch them grow from the mistakes they inevitably make.

BAD: Realistic characters can be frustrating. Some times you want to yell at them for the stupid decisions they're making. Also, when you're looking for an escape from real life, reading about such realistic characters isn't always the kind of fix you need (at least, it's not for me).

EXAMPLE: Samantha Kingston from Before I Fall. Samantha is a popular girl who smokes, drinks, and is not always nice. She's got plenty of flaws and they're all out on display (especially in the beginning). But, she's real. All those bad things she's done, are they really all that bad when you think about your high school experience? Even if you didn't do all those things, they aren't exactly breaking the mold here.

Role models are the types of characters you want to be. They are healthy characters who make good decisions and should be looked up to for those reasons. Sure, authors may give them some flaws too, but these are often more minor flaws that they are able to overcome or the "I'm too loving, that's why I'm overprotective" kind of flaws. Role models are often characters that you'd want to hang out with because they are just good people.

GOOD: Role models give the reader something to strive for. These characters set a good example and show the reader that they can do the right thing in tough situations. I find that many people seem to want all YA characters to be role models because they want the young adult readers to only be reading about good influences.

BAD: Role models are often unrealistic. Do you seriously mean to tell me that while in the middle of a huge, chaotic fantastical plot where secrets have been harbored for years, you're part of some strange new world, and lives may be at stake, that you're really worried that some magical being may have magically stolen a $2 cup of coffee? That's noble and all, but I doubt that's what would really be on your mind in that moment.

EXAMPLE:  Clary Fray from The Mortal Instruments. She's eager to please and doesn't want to upset anyone. She has high moral standards and does her best to always stick to them. Even when she's angry or does something that would upset someone else, she always comes back around. She can see her own flaws and work on them.

Fantasy characters are similar to role models. They are the people we want to be or the people we want to be around. Role models are all noble and such, but they don't always say or do the right thing (socially). Their morals are right where they belong, but role models may still not be able to whisper sweet nothings in your ear. Fantasy characters can. They know exactly what to do or say in every situation. Sure, they may have some of those not-flaws, flaws like "I'm too loving, that's why I'm overprotective," but they usually don't have many real flaws either. Fantasy characters are most prominent in romance, but they can be found anywhere.

GOOD: As the title implies, fantasy characters give you exactly what you want: fantasy. Reading books about these characters completely takes you away from reality and satisfies the wish-fullfillment aspect of reading.

BAD:  Fantasy characters are entirely unrealistic. Don't go try to find your real man based on a fantasy character because it won't work. He's not out there. Honestly, if I found someone in the real world who acted just like a fantasy character, I'd probably run away screaming. No one is that perfect and anyone who appears to be has got something hidden up their sleeve.

EXAMPLE:  Edward Cullen. He always says the right thing, does exactly what you'd want him to, and his flaws make you love him even more (ie, too overprotective because he loves you). He's practically the definition of fantasy character.

Of course, these designations aren't completely black-and-white. There's lots of overlap and mixing that occurs. For me, I think the best characters are a mix, particularly a mix of realistic and role model. But, I also love reading about fantasy romance leads.

Which types of characters do you like to read about most? Are there any other clear-cut examples in your mind?


  1. I completely agree with you. =) I like to read about a lot of different characters. Mostly, though, I love realistic characters in a fantasy setting. Someone who stays realistic, even though everything around her is fantasy. Say, hmm, Riley from The Demon Trapper's series. She has flaws, she's completely realistic, yet she's a demon trapper!

    Thanks again for sharing this post. =) It was enjoyable.

  2. Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. :D I'm never too sure if people are going to like my random writerly musings or not. Glad I hit the mark with this one!

    I haven't read The Demon Trapper's series, so I'll have to put that on my list. :D