Monday, June 13, 2016

In Which Characters Make Mistakes Pt. 2

Today is part II on my characters making mistakes rant.
You can see part I over here (it has Harry Potter gifs, guys!)

So, recap:

Some readers hate books when they find characters making mistakes.

I do not, and I oftentimes find this reaction baffling, or sometimes just flat out wrong. So I'm writing posts breaking down why I think characters who make mistakes are the right way to go about things. Or if not that, why I find the hate for these mistake-making characters misplaced.

Part I was all about how mistakes make conflict and conflict makes drama, so don't be afraid to check it out.

But today we're tackling part II, which is:

Characters that make mistakes are more fully developed.


Have you ever known a person who humble-brags about everything? Someone who's so amazing at everything and they want you to know?

(related: I just finished reading SIMON VS. THE HOMO-SAPIENS AGENDA and there is a character in there who is just the worst at this. She says things like "I didn't even know a thigh gap is something girls should strive for because I've always had one" baaaaarf.)

Those people are hard to be around, right? Because they're just so perfect.

Well what do you think characters who don't make mistakes are like?

(side note: the character in SIMON VS. THE HOMO-SAPIENS AGENDA has a great bit of character building that makes her fully formed, even for a minor side-character. It's a great book. You should read it.)

Here's another question for you:

Have you made mistakes in your life?
Do you know other people who have made mistakes in their lives?
Are these mistakes in spite of really knowing your shit about stuff? Yes?

Well welcome to the human race!

Real people, in real life, make mistakes all the time. All the time. Sometimes they're small mistakes, like forgetting to thaw the chicken for Tuesday night dinner (even though you always make dinner on Tuesday nights, and you always have to make dinner.)

Sometimes they're much bigger mistakes. Diving into a shallow pool. Driving drunk. Taking one too many pills. Not trusting people who you've always trusted. Trusting people you shouldn't.

That's life. No one's perfect. I mean, even Freddie Mercury tells us about mistakes.

Don't you talk shit about Freddie now

So why is it that there's so much hate for characters that aren't perfect? I don't see anyone saying Freddie Mercury was too dumb to live because of his mistakes.

Do you know what's boring? A story where a character doesn't do anything wrong. Because how do we learn if we don't make mistakes?

And if characters have nothing to learn from, then they have no way to go, which means there's no character arc.

(Unless of course the character's arc is that things happen and they don't grow. That's a different kind of arc and can totally work. Spoiler, though: those characters probably make mistakes too.)

You know who wrote about characters who didn't make mistakes?

H.P. Lovecraft.

You know why he wrote these characters like that? (well, white men, anyway. H.P. Lovecraft was not about making his own prejudiced mistakes in his lifetime.)

Because he was writing HORROR! It made it terrifying that his characters did everything right and still couldn't defeat the eldritch horror. His characters were perfect because it was a horror story!

As an author, I write characters who make mistakes. Mistakes that come about because of pride and ego, ignorance and prejudice. Mistakes because they're drunk. Or have baggage they carry with them. Sometimes these mistakes are dumb, sometimes they're not. But these mistakes that characters make is what makes them more real, more true-to-life.

If you have a character who's perfect in every way, who never makes mistakes, you don't have a fully formed character. You have a cardboard cut-out. And who wants to read about that?

Not me, anyway.

Part III is going to delve more into how these reactions are actually more BS than you'd think. Stay tuned!

Do you like reading about characters who make mistakes? Or do you prefer your characters perfect?



Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Now I want to go back and read a Lovecraft story to see if the characters really were perfect.
Characters don't have to be stupid to make mistakes. I probably rely on baggage more than anything for their mistakes.

Tamara Narayan said...

Readers actually complain about characters' mistakes?! That's crazy. My first guess is that they are not writers, because mistakes are a device as you point out in these posts. I would be bored to death reading about perfect characters (unless they were eaten by something especially gruesome).

I'd say if your writing is invoking such a strong response in readers, even anger, you are doing something right.

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