Monday, August 22, 2016

A Bit On Novel Characters (How Novel!)

Hey hey hey! How are you guys? Taking things well, I hope. But if not, well, you can always talk to someone about it.

Speaking of talk, I wanted to talk a bit (a bit) on book characters. Specifically, a few things about what makes potentially good characters bad. And I mean bad. There are just some things that, despite what certain folks may say, simply kill the magic and/or depth of a character. I've decided to list four--and they are in no particular order--that will hopefully warn fellow authors of these grievances. (Now y'all don't shoot the messenger!)

     Problem #1: Characters that do things for unpardonably stupid reasons, or worse, for no reason at all.

This is more properly a plot crutch/hole more so than a character flaw (well, depends on how you look at it), but because it's so close to my heart and mind, and has ruined otherwise interesting characters I was following, it gets a mention. This problem arises when your character is, say, journeying to the far far east along the clean, safe main road with no trouble in sight, and then, just for the sake of plot, they decide to turn out of their way and take a dark, dangerous side-path that has nothing to do with them, all because some punk in the last village they passed questioned their bravery and they felt that they now had something to prove to themselves. Sounds stupid, right? Well things like that get done more often than you might think, and they have to stop! Decisions like that take away any credibility from the author that the character in question is intelligent, so when they rise to become the leading hero of the story later on, it feels so (so) forced and weak, and ends up making the reader angry. Please don't fall into this trap, my dear writers. It's a common problem.

     Problem #2 Unbearably unbearable female characters.

Now before the shouts of indignation start, hear me out. How many books are we gonna read in which the female lead/hero destined to save the world treats everybody around her--especially her love interest--like the scum on her shoe no matter how nice they are to her, only to watch them die heroically (for her) and then cry and cry, and be all, Oh! they meant sooo much to me after all! I wish I had been nicer! Come on! You guys know exactly what I'm talking about. This is hands down the largest reason I'm leery of female leads in modern fantasy novels, or fiction novels in general. 90% of them (being generous here) act like this. No matter how nice their mentors, friends, parents, and first and second boyfriends are to them, they can't help but be sneery, snappy, and slappy. You'd think they'd learn better halfway through the book, but nope, they'll stay like that right up until old Vance, Shane, Peeta, or Roy dies, and then they'll-- Wait wait, what am I thinking? That's the part where they turn against the whole world (because grieving, you know?), claiming that life's just like a huge black hole that sucks up any attempt at happiness in their poor lives. Sometimes without the reader even realizing it, the author turns this stage into the girl's pity party for herself rather than for the person she was grieving for. During this stage, everybody's an enemy, except maybe a side character who, up till then, didn't seem that important, but will then become a sort of mother or sister figure for the girl to lean on.

This is a big one, guys, and it's got to come to an end. Female leads can be strong and independent without being the banes of their book's existence.

     Problem #3: Characters that have no motivation for their actions and/or attitudes.

This one is a bit more subtle, but it fits into problem #1. Look at it this way: If we were introduced to a story in which a bounty hunter was the main character, most of us would probably instantly be interested. However, if upon reading the first few pages, we discovered that this hardcore brutalizing individual had no idea why he was doing what he was, we'd definitely be inclined toward annoyance. Halfway through the book, if the bounty hunter still had no idea why he continued to bounty hunt, and there was no info on some hidden agenda (such as mind control or memory loss) we'd be exclaiming, What's going on here?! If we ever managed to make it to the end of the book to where the bounty hunter rides off into the sunset after getting the better of his numerous foes, and still we had no idea as to why he did what he did, most of us would be angry enough to write a negative review.

     Motivations are important. Without them, your character has little to no direction. What's the point of anything he or she does? Everything's got to have a reasoning behind it. More books than is proper to be allowed miss this oh-so important element in their stories.

     Problem #4: Characters that get saved (all the time) by dumb luck.

Okay, this usually has nothing to do with the characters themselves, as it's more a product of forced plot, but hey, it needs to be mentioned. Why? Because characters that ought to catch it--whether that's punishment, pain, or, yes, even death--but keep escaping for no other reason than because the author wants them to keep on living makes the reader angry with the character! Really? Yes! Through no fault of their own, the poor character (who should have been dead as a stone six chapters ago, and eight before that) find himself/herself on your bad side because they continue to defy the laws of the universe by breathing. Sometimes people get so attached to their characters, or the character constantly in danger just becomes too important to the plot to kill off, that they'll employ any and every tactic to keep them alive, moving from one totally unbelievable save to another. Now listen to me: I'm not saying your character cannot be saved by dumb luck every once in a while; that can be a good thing and is quite permissible. But every three chapters? No no no no no. By then you either have to kill them, or else stop putting them in inescapable danger. (It's a funny thing, though, that this problem is probably the most easily forgiven for some reason or another. People like to complain about it, but it doesn't often stop them from finishing a story.)

So there you have it. Four things not to do to your characters if you want to endear your readers to them. Hope you guys enjoyed. That's all for now.

Keep Strong!