Friday, March 26, 2010

Characters Who Need to Be Shot

Song Playing: Anthem by Kamelot

Happy Friday!

A quick note before I forget, I will not be blogging on Monday, Tuesday, and possibly even Wednesday next week. Instead, I will be at class for my massage therapist Continuing Education Units (CEUs). In order to keep my license I have to attend a certain number of accredited hours, and since I would like to keep my income, off I go. Normally this requires tons of money and taking time off to attend a weekend class here, and seminar there, but I lucked out and found a program that lasts four days and gives me more hours than I actually need. So from early tomorrow until Tuesday I will be attending this class, bootcamp style.

All that to say, I don’t know when I will be home and it will probably be only long enough to eat and then crash into bed.

So no blog posts. I know, you’re all going to be besides yourselves with grief. Feel free to caper about in the comments section while I am gone.

Also, there’s a squirrel outside the size of a terrier. Yes, Mom’s still feeing the squirrels. Since I live a few houses down from my parents, I assume this is one of the ambassador squirrels. Nutter Butter is what Mom is calling him after I told her about all of your comments about the squirrel whispering, and Michael Emeritz’s comment about Ambassador Nutter Butter in particular.

Today I have characters on the brain. Between revision and my WIP, I have been working with my characters a good deal, and I noticed I tend to have a diverse lot. Some authors seem to prefer to only write about terse men who smoke and drink too much, others prefer spunky heroines who mess up as much as they help the conflict, and still others prefer the tough, combat boot wearing female who doesn’t take lip from anyone.

A brief digression on those types of tough heroines: they get on my ever-loving last nerve. I am not saying they can’t be done well. I really enjoy that sort of heroine on TV or in books when she’s portrayed well, but I noticed a trend towards this type of female, and I always get the urge to smack her in the face more times that not. It’s like the author says, “Well, this is her flaw. She’s tough, masculine, and doesn’t like to wear pink. She’s one of the guys.” And said author goes on to write about the trouble the character gets into.

All of this is fine. That’s not the obnoxious part.

The obnoxious part is when said mouthy heroine acts out of character, or has no consequences to her character flaw. When she runs into the Big Bad Guy she doesn’t mouth off to him, even though every situation up to now points to she speaks first and thinks about it later, thereby breaking her character. But the author knows if she mouths off to Big Bad Guy, he would just shoot her in the head. End of story. So the author has her break character, and bite her lip. “I wanted to give him a piece of my mind, but I knew he would shoot me where I stand if I did.” The author also substitutes her mouthing off to the bad guy by having her glare at him too. All of this to cover up the fact that she just breaches character. I am not saying that your mouthy characters should be suicidal, but don’t show them mouthing off to everyone without forethought up to now, and then suddenly they have found restraint.

OR she does mouth off to Big Bad Guy and one of two things happens.
a) Big Bad Guy respects her spunk, and pats her on the head. No one seems to care.
b) She mouths off to him, she and her comrades get tossed into the dungeon where they make a daring escape, and it’s back to business as usual. None of her comrades seem to care she can’t keep her mouth shut when it would be suicide not to, and no one even gets ANGRY with her. They just saunter off and congratulate themselves for a job well done.


If I hung out with someone who constantly got me into trouble because they couldn’t keep their mouth shut because “I don’t let anyone boss me around” I would drop them in a New York Minute (which is quicker than a regular minute).

Again, I am not saying there’s anything wrong with a tough heroine. I have several. I am not saying there’s anything wrong with having them act according to character, and mouth off to people they shouldn’t, if that’s the sort of person you’ve shown them to be.

I am complaining about character traits that magically go away or are inconvenient to the plot. And I see it most often with the tough heroine. People want her to be cool, but they don’t think about the real life consequences that sort of person would incur.

Okay, I am done ranting…for now.

I noticed in my own work that my characters run the gamut between out spoken and quiet, gutsy or mousey, cowardly or brave. It’s not intentional, I don’t say to myself, “Okay, I had an outspoken guy with authority issues last time, now it’s time for a mousey, shy girl who blushes when people look at her.” It just sort of happens. Mostly because I try to make the character directly relevant to the plot, but also because it’s just the character that pops into my head at the time.

I think if you’re only comfortable writing a certain character type, then there’s nothing wrong with that. I would recommend challenging yourself with different types of character once in a while, but that’s your call.

If I had to say, I have a slight preference for females over male, but only because I worry my male characters come across as too feminine and/or unrealistic. But I haven’t had any complaints and some of my best characters are guys, so there’s that. I am also the sort of girl who has more guy friends than girl friends, even though recently the number is balancing itself out, so I think that helps with the guy characters. And I don’t believe that guys can’t write convincing girls or vice versa. Hello, She’s Come Undone is one of the best books I’ve ever read, from the POV of a girl, and written by a guy (Wally Lamb is the author).

One thing I do struggle with is weeding out characters. Every time I start a book I have several characters that try to cram themselves into the work. So they all duke it out thunderdome style, until the winners crawl out and get to be in my book.

It doesn’t make cutting them any easier. I have read advice on combining characters when this happens, and I can manage that sometimes, but most of the time, I can’t. The characters have a specific job or race directly tied to their persona, and combining the two normally means the absolute death of one. This means I have a lot of characters lying around, waiting for their book to be up. I suppose it’s a good problem to have, but frustrating at times.

So what about you guys? How do you feel about tough heroines? Any character pet peeves in books? What about your books, do you have problems with over or under population? Any preferences for character types? Any worries about cross gender characters?


  1. Here's my first question and I will hold additional comments as to not make an ass of myself. This tough heroines who act masculine and then break character, are they written by men or by women?

  2. Both! You would think women know better, but maybe they are overcompensating. The major culprit of this is a woman who had an awesome female character until the series devolved into a romance novel, and a poorly written one at that.