Rant Level: Medium
I’m not going to name names here or get too specific, but a while back I was reading a book where the main character, a teenage boy, wondering what made him so special to fight the forces of evil, and being told by another character just how good and kind and downright awesome he was, proven by the fact that even after someone being attacked, all he felt was pity for the person who tried to kill him. Annnnnnd I stopped reading.
Okay, I get it. He’s on the side of good. But does he really need to be the living embodiment of perfection, to the point where he’s so sickeningly sweet that I need insulin?
Perfect characters have always bugged me. I’m not talking about the ones that are super beautiful or super smart (although those kinds often overlap with this one). I mean the ones that are just so good and nice all the time and are never irrational or selfish or freaking human. Ever. They never hurt people or cause bad things to happen, except by accident, and of course if they did they would immediately jump to rectify the situation. And I hate them.
I see myself as impossibly imperfect. I do selfish things, on purpose, and I know they’re selfish, and I feel horribly guilty afterward, even if it’s nothing truly bad (like skipping a party because I’m feeling asocial). So, knowing all these imperfections I have, and realizing that, come on, at least most of the world is flawed like me, it bothers me to read about characters who are so. frigging. perfect. There’s nothing to relate to! I suppose they have “ideals” to aspire to, but that doesn’t make them a character. It makes them an unachievable dream.
Too often these days I’m seeing characters that fall into this trope—and worse, they seem to be popping up in YA as morality lessons for why you must always be good so good things will happen to you. I think those are really dangerous lessons to teach kids. One does not equal the other, the same way evil doesn’t always lead to bad things happening (just look at banks for a good example of this). And you know what? Sometimes you do have to be tough and mean or otherwise people will walk all over you, not instantly become your friend because you’re the paragon of niceness.
I know the satisfaction of reading books comes from seeing a world that has some sort of order to it, where evil is punished and the star-crossed lovers are happy and together forever. But there has to be struggle, there has to be sacrifice, there has to be growth. If a character doesn’t come out of a book different—not just traumatized by events, but actually and significantly changed—then the story was just a plot, the characters just tools. With a perfect character, there’s nowhere to go but down.
All right, maybe the rant level was more “high” than “medium”. Whatever. What do you think of perfect characters? What about flawed ones?
Hard for a character to change when he starts off as a perfect ten, right?ReplyDelete
In real life, none of us are perfect, and we do get angry and do the wrong thing sometimes.
I prefer flawed characters because they are vastly more real. My characters screw up a lot because of that.ReplyDelete
A perfect character -- especially as a protagonist -- is pretty boring to read about. And Alex makes a really good point. How is there going to be growth and change if the character starts out perfect? Unless he grows less perfect and not as nice as the story goes on ... Hmm. There's a thought. ;)ReplyDelete
Agree, agree, agree. Sometimes choosing the right thing costs and no one applauds you. Sometimes the wrong choice gets you ahead. Seeing characters who wrestle with the right choices is going to produce deeper characters.ReplyDelete
I can tell you weren't reading anything by me.ReplyDelete
Give me a flawed character anytime.ReplyDelete
Yeah, at a certain point too perfect just gets annoying. Sure, it's good to be good, but that makes for a boring story.ReplyDelete
I'm with you. These days I live for a character arc. If the MC hasn't dramatically changed by the end of the book, I'll probably put it down and never think about it again. Life is change, and we want to see it. When you start out perfect, where are you supposed to go from there?ReplyDelete
Agreed. I'm not so interested in a perfect character. I love flaws--and I like to see characters actually develop during the story. No where to go if you're a ten, like Alex said.ReplyDelete
I can't stand perfect characters. They don't make any sense to me and they're just boring. A perfect character doesn't have any meaningful conflict in his life. Bad things happen around him and he fixes them, end of story. It's almost worse than an indestructible character. At least an indestructible character can still behave irrationally or selfishly and seem, you know, human.ReplyDelete
Right with you, They make the character unattainable to the average reader, and in YA that's putting out there something else unrealistic - like everyone being size zero! Plus of course, makes just a plain dull read LOL!ReplyDelete
Suzanne @ Suzannes Tribe