Last week, I started a series about the things that will make a reader put down a book. You’re a reader. Tell me about a time you put a book down because it annoyed you. My first topic was inappropriate content. I know it sounds prudish, but that is one situation that will make me discard a book fast. The other topics are a little more gray-ish.
I skipped Barbie dolls when I was a little girl and opted instead for Dawn dolls, a smaller version that fit perfectly in the head board of my bed. I made them a little house there complete with tissue boxes and coasters for furniture. Course they only came in female dolls. I cut the hair of one of them, but she still looked like a girl. Oh well.
My walk through memories actually does have a point. This is a big pet peeve for readers: plastic, 2-dimensional characters. My Dawn dolls were great fun to play with, but without bendable joints or opposable thumbs they couldn’t even reach their feet or hold a shoe. With no personality whatsoever, they wouldn’t make very good heroines.
I read a book recently with a hero like that. He had a great accent and a kind way of treating women, the heroine and his own mom. So sweet. Yet he had no goals. He just wondered about entertaining the heroine, a woman he’d only just happen to meet. He had no fears or concerns. His mother was quite ill, but he never mentioned her, never thought about her unless someone called him with a problem. He had no hangups. Only showed his temper at the bad guy and then apologized. He had no problems and never made a mistake.
Perfect … and boring. I don’t guess I need to tell you that he had no character arch either.
It’s funny; most books I read can nail a good heroine. If there’s a character issue, it’s usually with the hero. Go figure, since most romance authors are women. And often our plastic Ken dolls have thoughts that are distinctively female-ish. A recent book I read had the hero commenting, “I think we’ll hear wedding bells soon.”
I read that little excerpt to my sweet hubby. He laughed. “I bet he said that just before he and his buddies started talking about their thoughts and feelings.” LOL! One of our favorite Christian comedians has a bit about asking men what they’re “thinkin’.”
(And I read a hysterical blog article the other day about that very thing. Here’s that link and it’s clean, but I don’t recommend anything else from that site. Fair warning.)
But women and men ARE different. The characters on the page should SOUND different and THINK different. And it’s important that both the hero AND heroine have a character arch – a hang up, a past, a black moment, a realization of the truth. Sometimes, even the antagonist has a character arch. That can be fun.
Examples of Authors Who Do Characters Well
I’ve read a number of books recently that did a GREAT job with the characters. Susan May Warren comes to mind. I read her book My Foolish Heart two years ago and those characters are still among my favorites! If characters are one of your focus points when you read, you MUST read that book! You will LOVE IT!
Right now, I’m reading one of her older novels, Nothing But Trouble. PJ Sugar is a hoot. Very much a unique individual.
I think Susan May Warren is so good at characters because her story maps start with them. She nails down their history and the point in time when their lives changed in order to develop the plot of her books. Super cool.
Another good example of character comes from author Lynne Gentry. Her book, Healer of Carthage, has the most wonderful, infuriated, masterful, and immature hero in it. Truly, he is bigger than life, but as a new Christian, he doesn’t understand many of the truths that go on around him. Not only does that frustrate him, but he tends to react toward what is familiar. From his upbringing and the time before he became a Christian. Is that not realistic? I think it’s BRILLIANT that Lynne developed him so to make such a complete person.
Your Turn: What book or screen characters are the most memorable to you and why?
2014/April at 12:00 pm
Hmm, maybe it’s Harrison Ford but Indiana Jones is another great character – fearless & flawed. His line, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage,” is a favorite, of many. And if I remember correctly, Harrison came up with that one himself. I also read that during the big chase/fight scene where he’s trying to find Marion, he was supposed to have a long sword battle in the street. They were choreographing it when Harrison asked why he couldn’t just shoot the guy. So he did & it’s a classic character scene.
It’s one thing I try to remember about men – keep it simple, short & raw. I read a book once where, in the POV of the main male character – a tough, gruff lawman – he actually noticed the colorful, pastel lacy-ness of the women’s dresses. Completely threw me off. Suddenly, in my mind, he was prancing down the street instead of striding.
One more thing – years ago, I took a guy friend aside & apologized for saying something a few weeks previous that was insensitive. It had bugged me the entire time & I felt terrible about it. But when I apologized he said, “Sharyn, I forgot all about it.” Then he added, “You know guys don’t get upset about stuff like that, right?” He gave me a whole new perspective on men … & how to write about them.
2014/April at 11:55 am
“he was prancing down the street instead of striding.”
Ha! Great visual. There’s enough fodder here to make feminine-minded heroes a category all it’s own!
2014/April at 11:33 am
I dislike those perfect guy characters also. What first came to mind for me is the old Star Wars movie character Hans Solo. Roguish, sarcastic, a mix of cowardice and bravado who was irresistible…
2014/April at 11:48 am
LOVED that character! He’s one of my all-time FAVORITES!
2014/April at 11:56 am
When Leia says I like nice men. And he says I am nice men…[i think i quoted that right] 🙂
2014/April at 12:27 pm