Friday, April 17, 2015

Kill Your Darlings: How Perfect Kills

Does anyone have a friend that's perfect? Like, insanely, horrifyingly perfect? Like, when a breeze kicks up and destroys your hair, it makes their's look like they're stepping out of an Herbal Essence commercial while they also single handedly save a kitten and land the perfect job all at the same time? They even breath perfectly. Yeah. We all have one at some point in our lives. And we sometimes hate them (even though they would never hate you. Because they're perfect.).

They even stare at people perfectly!

Now put that person in a book.

Now make them the main character.

Are you ready to read about the girl/boy who is so perfect even God said "dang, guess I'm out of a job!" No. You're going to use that book as kindling for your next camp fire. Because you don't want to read about the perfect girl/boy who can do no wrong and always wins. Life is already hard enough in a world where there seems to be perfect people--we don't want to read 300 pages of it either. Because we're not perfect: We're human.

So as a writer it's your job, no your right, to write imperfect people. Because that's what makes them perfect. That's what makes them interesting. As humans we want to see people fail and fall on hard times--but we want to seem them overcome the problems as well. We want to root for them. We as readers (and writers) want to relate and see ourselves in the main character regardless of gender. We want to finish a book and say, "if they can make it through such shitty stuff, then so can I!"

No one wants to read about the princess who was graced with angelic looks, perfect manners, dancing skills, and also secretly trained fencing and became a sword master. All by the age of 12. Of course we can't forget that she also has the ability to use all four elements of magic--something that hasn't been seen in a thousand years! Her being able to take on a threat to the kingdom is no problem thanks to all of these. Oh. And did we mention that she's an expert negotiator? Yeah. Super boring.

Soooo boooorrreeeed.....

But I want to be clear here. There is a difference between 'perfect' characters and the 'hero' type. Just like in life there are Olympic athletes who are just, well, better than 99% of people at sports, so too, can there be heroes who have powers, abilities, and talents that most people in their world don't have. That's why they're the main character. But the difference is that you SEE that hero struggle.

For example, while Dareth might have the strongest Fire Magic of ALL TIME, he's lazy. And he's got a napoleon complex to over come. And he's bad at math, which he needs to know to control fire. Whatever.

He's short, he's bald, he knows nothing, he's 13: And he's here to save the WORLD!

The point is, he has FAULTS despite his awesome natural ability. We want to watch him struggle because we struggle. And no one can relate to some one who's who life is charmed and perfect. Except maybe those rare other 'perfect' people.

So kill them. Or not. But drag your characters through the mud. Slay their family AND their pet dog for good measure. Let them be that hero that saves the world and has special magical abilities or perfect aim. But give them faults, because humans aren't perfect even (and especially!) when they're gifted. Perfection is boring to read and as a writer is boring to WRITE.

So when you go to make your main character remind yourself: Would you want to read about a person so perfect that you can't relate to them even a little bit?

No. No you wouldn't.

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