July 31, 2013
The Fear of Writing Real Characters
Writing strong, interesting characters is not easy. Many writers use real people, or combinations of real people, as the basis for their characters. Because they are, in essence, real people, readers relate to them. It’s no surprise then, that quite a few authors base their protagonists or at least some important character on themselves.
In theory there’s nothing wrong with that, but…(yes, there’s always a
butt.) …quite often the writers don’t go far enough. What do I mean? I mean that fear and embarrassment get in the way. The writers become hesitant to show weaknesses. Afraid to show the bad side of themselves.
When that happens the writers cheat their readers out of a good story because the characters aren’t fully developed. It’s like getting a hamburger without the meat. (Remember that old Wendy’s commercial about “Where’s the beef?”)
Who Was More Interesting?
Batman or Superman?
Batman was a far more interesting character than Superman, and not just because Batman had a dark side. Everything about Batman was more interesting, more developed.
Think about disguises. Superman hid his identity by wearing a pair of glasses, and I’m not talking 1980s shades that wrapped around his head and covered half his face. I’m talking plain black-rimmed glasses. And the readers were supposed to believe no one recognized him?
Batman at least had a mask, a pretty nice cowl, that covered his face. Oh, and he had that cape. Damn sweet cape!
Secret places. Superman changed clothes in a phone booth—a phone booth!
Batman had the Bat Cave, tucked away…somewhere…and he had to whisk through a forest kicking up leaves and such to get to it. Nobody could find the Bat Cave, not even Google Maps.
Alter-egos. Superman was mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent, a bumbling idiot who was cowed by his boss, acted like a buffoon around Lois Lane, and was a pal to Jimmy Olsen.
Batman was billionaire playboy, Bruce Wayne, head of one of the world’s largest corporations, and he had a fling with Catwoman.
You Want More?
Hans Solo or Luke Skywalker?
Hans Solo stole the show from Luke Skywalker, mostly because Hans was flawed. He was a smuggler, a scalawag (whatever the hell that is), and he hung around with a Wookie.
Luke Skywalker was…well…he was Luke Skywalker.
Viscount Raoul de Chagny or The Phantom of the Opera?
Sure, I know what you’re thinking. Raoul was handsome, charming, sweet, rich, dedicated, and he loved Christine Daaè.
The Phantom was disfigured, possessive, a criminal, and he loved Christine Daaè. Despite all that, who didn’t want The Phantom to win Christine’s heart? Even if you didn’t root for him, you surely felt pity.
In the examples above, Superman, Luke, and Raoul were almost flawless, while Batman, Hans, and The Phantom had more than enough troubles to go around. We felt for them, empathized with them. It’s tough to empathize with a guy whose only weakness is kryptonite.
What Does This Mean?
If you base your heroes on yourself—or only the good traits of yourself—without the flaws and warts that we all have, you are cheating your readers out of the enjoyment of reading. Even worse, you’re cheating yourself, because the readers will know. You can’t fool them. Readers will spot a one-dimensional character a hundred miles away, and that’s how far they’ll stay from your next book if that’s what you give them.
How To Fix It?
And by that, I mean don’t be afraid to show your fear. Yes, we’ll know that the hero who felt fear, or was afraid to approach the girl, or cheated to get ahead, was really you. But your secret will be safe because we all have our faults, and the ones that make us cringe the most…perhaps they hit too close to home.
Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of:
No Mistakes Resumes
Murder Takes Time
Murder Has Consequences
A Bullet For Carlos
He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”
Leave a comment below. What’s important to you when reading?