Characters are an important part of stories. In fact, they are probably the most important part. Without good characters a story is missing something vital. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about character development and I've come to the conclusion that there are two extremes to avoid: perfect characters and characters with flaws that are condoned.
I'll start with perfect characters. I love the Elsie Dinsmore series
by Martha Finley, but they have a major flaw: perfect characters. If
the character is a good one, he or she rarely, if ever, makes mistakes.
Just look at Elsie. She is the standard of what a little girl should be,
right? Lulu Raymond was really bad, until she reformed and became a
Christian, at which point she was perfect. To be honest, this was pretty
typical of child characters of the time. Look at Sara Crewe. She
doesn't really have any serious character flaws to struggle against.
J. Grace Pennington had an excellent post
about this subject awhile back. See, it's not that I'm against
characters being good, not by a long shot, and I'll address that in more
detail later. It's the unrealistic goodness that I don't like. It gives
a false impression, and makes it impossible to relate to the
characters. I never could relate to Elsie. I could relate to Lulu and
her struggles with her temper, but it annoyed me when she reformed
because she never did anything wrong again. Sure, I conquered my temper
and don't really have much of a problem with it anymore, but that
doesn't mean I don't struggle with sin in other areas anymore. I think
good guys should be good, of course, but not perfect. Perfection in a
human character is unrelatable, and makes for a flat, cardboard
Another aspect I thought of
recently, actually what got me thinking about it again, was the perfect
"love interest." A trap many authors fall into is creating a girl
character and then making a perfect guy for her to marry. I admit, I did
somewhat fall into this trap myself when writing Felix Walker. And my
favorite character in The Hunger Games Trilogy is Peeta
Mellark, who is pretty near perfect. I mean, he does lie to the Capitol,
but overall he's really good. He's really nice, he loves Katniss
unconditionally and is blind to her flaws, and he is incredibly
selfless. He was willing to let himself get beaten for burning bread in
order to give Katniss the bread that saved her life after her father
died. Maybe there are people like that, but we can't teach our readers
to expect that from real life. Things do change in regards to him in Mockingjay but that would be a major spoiler.
On the other hand, Jace in Ilyon Chronicles
is far from perfect. He is constantly depressed because of his ryrik
blood and sometimes has difficulty controlling his temper. But he's
still a good person, and is always struggling against his nature and
trying to protect others, namely Kyrin. The character who got me
thinking about this subject again was Bardon in Donita K. Paul's Dragon Keeper Chronicles.
He is a gentleman and a chivalrous knight, but he's not perfect. He can
be infuriating with his principle quoting. Actually, he kind of reminds
me of Ferus Olin from Jedi Quest and Last of the Jedi by Jude Watson, a character who was so focused on being perfectly by the book that he became stuck up. Not that Bardon was all that stuck up, but still.
think having a perfect character in such a role is a very bad idea. It
prepares girls to expect perfection out of their future husband, which
of course can never be attained. The key I discovered with Bardon is
that he is a character in his own right. Sure, he entered the story to
eventually marry Kale, but he still is his own character. He got the
first 3/4 of DragonKnight to develop as an independent
character, struggling against his nature and personal desires in order
to do what is right, and it made the last books better for him to be a
character in his own right.
Next week (hopefully), I will explore the opposite extreme: condoned character flaws.