Being “Fair” to Your Characters

The longer I spend with my characters, the more I feel like a parent. I mean I am a parent: I have twins who are about to turn three. What I mean is that I’m beginning to feel like my characters’ parent as well. That is to say, I feel responsible for them in a particular way that reminds me of how I feel about my kids.

When I’m parenting, I try to give my kids opportunities to succeed. I mean, I’d much rather not put them in situations where they’re very likely to fail. I’d rather try to create situations in which they’re likely to succeed. For instance, I’m trying to teach my kids to share with each other. Perhaps with twins, especially, that’s an ongoing battle. I’ve found there are moments when the suggestion to share is more likely to be accepted, and I try to jump on those, so that I can praise good behavior. Of course, that’s not always possible. Kids don’t always succeed. But I want to give them opportunities to do so — as many as possible.

I’ve realized I feel the same way about my characters. I feel responsible for giving them opportunities to be their better selves, to reveal positive traits that might not necessarily be apparent, at first. As with my kids, it’s not always possible. After all, most of my characters are adults, and real life sadly doesn’t construct itself so as to encourage any particular person’s success. Events seem far more random than that. And, even when given the opportunity, not everyone steps up and does the right thing. A fictional world in which they did would ring false. But still, if I don’t at least create opportunities for showing a better side … well, I sort feel like a heel!

6 comments

  1. Hmm, I’d say most authors these days have issues allowing the characters to show their more devilish side. But, yeah, both are important, otherwise you get a charater who goes through the book, doing exatly what’s expected of him. Sometimes they have to go above and beyond or fail miserably.

    1. Yep, I think you’re right, Fred. Characters without flaws get boring in the end.

      I wonder if some of that too-nice tendency comes from the unwritten genre-fiction “requirement” for a protagonist with whom the reader can identify. No one wants to find themselves identifying with someone who’s too bad, you know? If you can identify with someone who’s cruel or dishonest or weak, what does it say about you? So, even if the protagonists are very crusty, they tend to be nice people on the inside.

    1. That you are admirably honest with yourself, while all the rest of us hide beneath the self-fashioned fiction that we’re 100% sugary confection? ;)

  2. I like flaws in main characters, particularly my own. Flaws are opportunities to improve, which also makes them excellent fodder for a character arc. I think that feeling responsible for giving your characters the chance to succeed means you have a good sense for using plot to develop character. :-)

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