Last week I started to write a post for this blog about characters in fiction, when suddenly I remembered a real character I met about thirty years ago. I hope you enjoyed that true story. This time I’ll concentrate on fictional characters, specifically unbelievable ones.
A writer I know, who I’ll call Suzy Simple, is actually a pretty good writer. However, she has yet to get a book published, except for the two she self-published with Amazon. I read both of those books, plus two romantic suspense novels she’s trying to interest a publisher in. Of the four, one is a disaster.
Another writer who’s also read the books, agrees with me. The problem with the book I’ll call HEAVENLY, is Suzy’s characters. They are all perfect. The heroine, who was once abandoned by her boyfriend, is saintly, raises her own son and five foster children alone and immediately forgives the exBF when he returns. Said BF apologizes (his earlier leaving wasn’t really his fault) and of course behaves perfectly. The heroine’s current BF also behaves perfectly, as do the girlfriend of the heroine and even the six children involved. All of these wonderful people are literally too good to be true. As a famous writer once wrote, “Constant Reader fwowed up.” I wanted to “fwow up” too. Talk about unbelievable.
Every article and every book on writing fiction stresses that characters must have a flaw or two in order to be realistic, because most people do. They also caution that villains in novels must have a good trait of some kind for the same reason. Real people are complex, varying mixtures of good and bad.
HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE, the new book by Anne R. Allen and Catherine Ryan Hyde, has a wonderful bit of advice that says it all. “Saints in fiction are boring. Unless they liberate France and are burned at the stake. And that’s been done.”
Since Suzy is a friend I don’t want to hurt, I won’t quote that line to her, but I fear she hasn’t changed her book. And maybe it will sell anyway. What do I know? I just know an unbelievable character when I read one, and I hope you-all do too.
Tell me about the unbelievable ones you’ve run into.