Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Writers who love too much

Their characters, that is. I see this occasionally in a submission-- a writer so enthralled with a character that, like an indulgent parent, she "spoils" the character. (Heck, I've done it myself.) Loads him down with great skills and talents, and at the same times fills him up with all sorts of angst and other important feelings. Most often, the character is shown being victimized (despite his wonderfulness, or BECAUSE of it) by others in the story.

I'm not sure what divides this from just creating a sympathetic character. But I know it when I read it-- this author loves Troy way too much. But what's "too much?" You ought to love your central character. You're going to live with him for a long time. So when is it "too much?" Examples?

I'm thinking one problem is "favoring" the character. Again, of course we favor our central character. He's central, after all. But the reader can probably tell when we're lavishing blessings on this guy that we withhold for everyone else in the book. He's the only one with any depth, he's the only one who has any real talent, he's the only one who has conflicts or contradictions.

I also wonder if this triggers in the reader some unconscious sibling rivalry. I know I (and I have seven siblings, so I know sibling rivalry :) tend to immediately resent the Favored One. Hmm. I bet the author identifies with that one, lavishes the blessings that he didn't have himself, never imagining that I (the automatically resentful one) would take all this blessing stuff as an affront.

And why, I ask you, does the creation of characters in a book so often remind me of childhood and parenting? ("You don't want to favor one child, I mean character, over the others.")

How do you know when you love a character too much? How do you know when that will have a counterproductive effect on the reader?



elfarmy17 said...

You know you favor a character too much when the people in your crit group think you're writing a parody of Twilight. :D
Semi-personal experience. I don't think that impression was due to favoring in my case. Then again, I have no idea. It's more high fantasy than modern paranormal, and the romance isn't that important.

Jordan said...

When we talk about loving a character too much, I think of not giving the character enough conflict—enough problems. As if we're afraid to have anything bad happen to our beloved character.

Also, not enough flaws. It seems like their biggest struggle is just how awesome they are (and how everyone hates them because they're just. SO. AWESOME.).

Thinking about your characters constantly, talking about (or even to) them, imagining new scenarios for them—these aren't the same thing. That's loving them just enough ;) .

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

It's a dangerous trap for a writer. I read one novel by a big-name author where the MC was perfect, had problems but was never personally hurt, and everything worked out for her best interests repeatedly. I never bought another book by that author again, I was soooo disgusted.

James Pray said...

A related issue I've run into lies in the realm of lasting changes to a character. IE, I want a character to be on her feet and functional in a few scenes (or chapters, etc), so it's hard not to pull punches in a fight scene before that.

Edittorrent said...

Right, not just external conflict, but internal conflict.

Leona said...

there was another post that has disappeared. It looked to be good too. *pouts* who took it away????

Anyway, I hate characters that are too perfect. :)

Unknown said...

I am guilty of this! I was just saying last night I was in love with my male lead because he was the perfect guy any girl would want. I better go in and make him a wreck.

Edittorrent said...

kim, maybe just go in and make him a person with conflicts and contradictions?

I'm more the "load him down with miserable backstory so that everyone feels sorry for him" type. I wonder why? I am of course the one who darkly thinks about my own funeral and how bad everyone will feel that they didn't treat me better. I attribute this to being raised Catholic and reading too much Life of the Martyrs. :)

Edittorrent said...

Alicia's wearing her black beret again. (Sorry, folks, a little inside baseball there.)


Adrienne Giordano said...

I knew I loved a secondary character too much when he was so great that he was messing up my main character by constantly making her look bad. I went in and made him a jerk every now and again!

Miss Sharp said...

Life of the Martyrs! ROFL Right up there with the Baltimore Catechism...

But I think you can love the creation as much as you like as long as you continually keep what it really wants out of its reach.

I mean, who doesn't like the idea of Miss Perfect getting the rug pulled out from underneath her?