Character Development – Nobody’s that perfect

Nothing bugs me more than when the hero or heroine in a novel is too perfect.  This is a common mistake for novice writers.  But it also plagues some writers who should know better.  I recently started reading a best-seller by a novelist who has had a bevy of best-sellers and I quit on page 34.  That was the point where it became evident that the two main characters were just too damn perfect.  Mind you, these are characters in a series of books, so I must assume this has been going on for some time now.  The man was handsome, smart, understanding and romantic, and yet he was a real tough guy who was an expert marksman and a martial arts black belt.  The woman was drop-dead gorgeous, in peak physical fitness with the body of a goddess, sexy, sophisticated, brilliant, tough as nails, and also an expert in self-defense.  Oh, yeah, and they both were the most ethical and moral people you’ve ever met.  It was like the old British TV show The Avengers with Steed and Mrs. Peel.  Only it wasn’t tongue-in-cheek like that show.  This was a serious novel with main characters that belonged in a comic book.

There are many reasons to avoid making your hero or heroine too perfect but I’ll only touch on a couple – one from the reader’s perspective and one from the writer’s perspective.  From the reader’s perspective…they’re boring!  A character who has some flaws, is struggling with a personal problem or problems, and has a few wrinkles (both in his psyche as well as his appearance) has more depth, is more realistic, and therefore is much more interesting.  We all know people who are “too good” or “too perfect” and, even though they may be someone you respect in some ways, they aren’t the people you gravitate toward at a cocktail party.  Why would you want to bore your reader with a whole novel about someone like that?

From the writer’s perspective, perfect characters are too restrictive.  Why limit yourself?  In Robert B. Parker’s series about Jesse Stone, he has a main character who is a recovering alcoholic with a checkered past and a co-dependent relationship with his ex-wife.  That gives Parker a couple of ready-made subplots for every novel in this series and a ton of material for character development.  You may or may not be a fan of Parker, but he is a master at character development.  He’s able to create interesting characters that can support a series of books without becoming caricatures of themselves.  That’s pretty remarkable when you consider he’s written 38 novels in the Spenser series alone.

Think about your favorite characters from the novels you’ve read, the movies you’ve seen, and even the TV shows you watch.  I’m quite sure they are not perfect.  We all have a tendency to make our main characters above average and someone we can look up to and perhaps even emulate.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Just don’t overdo it.  Too much of a good thing is just simply that…too much.  I love banana pudding.  But if I eat too much I don’t want to go near the stuff again for a while.  Don’t create characters that are too perfect or your readers will “pass on dessert” next time.



Filed under books, entertainment, writing

2 responses to “Character Development – Nobody’s that perfect

  1. Merril — there are people that seem to be too perfect…take me for example…

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