The dangers of falling in love with your characters.

By JorgenCarlbergWriters often say they love their characters, literally, like they were real people. Romance writers especially say they fall in love with their heroes. And why not? After all if the writer doesn’t love him how can they convince readers that the heroine – or other hero – is in love with him? I don’t disagree with this. There are some of my characters I love. But there are some dangers to this for the writer.

You won’t want to have bad things happen to them.

If you love someone you don’t want them hurt, physically or mentally. You don’t want anyone to be mean to them. But in writing that comes under the heading of ducking trouble. And you should never duck trouble. If the story demands your character gets punched in that handsome face of his, it has to happen. If it says he has to have his heart broken, then don’t go easy on him. Rip that heart out of his chest and drop kick it into the next chapter.

If you wimp out on doing mean things to the characters the stakes in the story can end up too low. “The bad guy captured him, oh noes! But he didn’t beat him up too bad and he quickly escaped. Oh.” You suck the drama out in an effort to protect him.

I personally don’t usually have an issue with this one. The more I love a character the more I want him to suffer! But there is maybe a worse danger.

You won’t let them do bad things.

Sometimes even good people do bad things. Nobody is perfect. Sometimes the right thing for your story is for the character to do something selfish, weak, unwise, or ill-considered. People do. They get scared or give into temptation, or act on impulse, or just plain get it wrong.

You can’t be afraid to let a character do something wrong. If you do go that way you’ll make them a flat, dull paragon of virtue, who always chooses the right path, the honourable path, who never gives in to any temptation, who never makes a mistake. Readers won’t love such a character; they’ll find them an annoying Mr. Perfect and latch on to someone more interesting instead. Maybe even the villain!

There’s one more danger – closely related to point two, but not quite the same.

You excuse them when they do bad things.

So let’s say you get past any block about point two and you let your character make some bad choices and do something bad. If you’re too fond of your character then you’ll excuse them for it. You’ll present it in such a way that suggests because they were pressured into it say, that they’re not really responsible. And anyway, they’re the hero, so anything they do has to be okay, right? Even if it’s something that if the villain did it you’d condemn them as a monster. It’s at this point the character truly becomes a monster themselves. They can do anything and you as the writer will forgive them and blame others for it, because your character is the good one! This is a very easy trap to fall into, and a fatal one.

Yes, the character can be pushed by circumstances into doing a bad thing – perhaps because they think that in the long term it’s for the best outcome. Or they’re trying to protect someone they love. But the bad thing remains a bad thing, and if you soften the blow by excusing the character you again lower the stakes. You reduce the impact of what it cost them to do that, how terrible it was for them to be pushed into doing it. It’s fine to understand just what made the character do that, without presenting those circumstances as a reason the character isn’t in fact in the wrong and doesn’t deserve to face any consequences.

I find the safest thing is to only really fall in love with your characters after you are done telling their story and it’s out and you can no longer mess it up!

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5 thoughts on “The dangers of falling in love with your characters.

  1. I’m guilty of the second one. I do horrible things to poor Nye (and Del, and Brynne…), but they very seldom do bad things. Yes, Nye is an alcoholic, but he stops drinking after he falls in love with Allessa (yes, a het couple!). Yes, he has daddy issues that cloud his own relationships with certain of his children, mainly Del, who is afraid to come out to him. Of course, once Del does, Nye understands and accepts Brynne into the family. *sigh* Yeah, I’m totally in love with Nye.

  2. I’ve fallen completely in love with one of my recent characters and she’s quite troubled and has a lot of dark thoughts going through her head so it’s killing me to write it because I end up in tears every time I make her suffer but I think that’s a good thing. I have such a strong connection with her that I feel her pain so my writing ends up more authentic and raw.

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