I touched the subject of ‘character perfection’ in my last post, but I decided to dedicate an entire post to it. Yay! Now, you all know how I feel about the Perfect Characters (hence the reason I can’t stand Elsie Dinsmore, excellent values though she may have) – I don’t like them. They give an unrealistic air to the entire book, and it’s hard to take them seriously. Some writers, though, have trouble with creating characters who AREN’T perfect – I mean, we want the best for our characters, right? We want people to like them! Trouble is, we tend to swing the other direction. Characters come out as either angels or demons, when what we really want is a human being.
So, here are a few helpful tricks for turning your Perfect Character into someone a little more realistic – and, in the end, more likable.
1. Give a negative side to a positive attribute. A cheerful personality can become TOO cheerful, and therefore, annoying. A character who always tells the truth could go too far and be rudely blunt to everyone. If a person is shy, it could be taken as rude or self-centered. A polite person could become foppish and condescending. The possibilities are endless! *wink*
2. Pick flaws that suit your character. If you’ve got a huge, brawling cowboy, his flaw probably won’t be the condescending politeness I just mentioned. Likewise, if your character is a slight little thing, they won’t constantly be beating people up. (Unless they’re gifted with special powers.) For instance, I have an imagination that never quits – even when it should. Like at funerals, or during serious conversations. I also get bored very, very easily, which is frequently mistaken as “Just shoot me now.”
3. Put your character into a situation where he’s pushed to his limits. Maybe someone insults him to his face until he can’t take it anymore, or hurts someone he loves. Maybe his reputation is sullied online or in town or wherever his reputation could be sullied. Find out exactly how they would react in a stressful situation.
4. Remember, your character is as close to a real person as words can get. Therefore, they should change and grow like a real person. He might be one way now, but maybe by the end of the story, he’ll be different. And, if you’re lucky, you might even grow along with him. I know I grow along with my characters, particularly Mir. He showed me a lot of things.
Now, I have to stick this in here – don’t hop on the pendulum and swing so far trying to make an imperfect character that you make him downright bad, unless he’s intended to be. I write a lot of dark characters, but I do my best to balance their darkness with light. I also write light characters, but they have hidden darkness. Make your characters real, make them unique, and let them grow. End speech.
“Daddy, is he a good man or a bad man?”
“Honey, there’s no such thing.”