Sunday, February 28, 2016
BORING CHARACTERS? HERE'S WHY! by CHERYL PIERSON
The other day, I came across an article in a little newsletter I get a few times each week called QUORA. This is a newsletter/site where people can write in and ask questions—sometimes really odd or different questions, like “What does it feel like to die?” or “Are only children happier than children from large families?” – just stuff like that, and anyone can answer. Once the questions are answered, you can see all the answers, but the ones with the most “Upvotes” are the ones that move to the top of the answer page.
The other day, one of the questions was something like, “What makes a person boring? How can I try NOT to be boring?” I read several of the answers, and as I did, I thought about the characters we create and how this might apply to them, as well.
Growing up in the 60’s/70’s, there was still a prevalent idealogy that, to “catch a man” everything had to be about him. Even articles in magazines for young girls, such as Seventeen and Glamour and Mademoiselle talked about the things we women should do to make sure we snagged our guys and kept them. Number 1 on every list was “TALK ABOUT HIM”. Make him feel that he’s the most interesting thing on earth.
Here's an example from Tiger Beat: Look at the worried expression on Davy Jones's face...what teen girl wouldn't give anything to make him smile again?
And David Cassidy? Be still my heart. Let me find out what I need to do to make him MY OWN!
My personal heart throb at the time, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders...I must know the bad things he does, and of course, the things he can't live without. How can I hope to please him, otherwise?
Have you noticed this in some of the romance books you’ve read? In the words of the Toby Keith smash hit, “I wanna talk about me, wanna talk about I, wanna talk about number one, oh my me my…” (I’ve included the song below with lyrics so you can enjoy them all!)
Well, some of the responses to what makes a boring person (or character) were pretty eye-opening. One of them was that the boring person was “absent” from the conversation—although they’re right there physically, they’re always trying to guide the conversation back to their interests. When everyone else is discussing books, the “boring” person is wanting to talk about something they are an authority on, or at least know more about than others there, rather than contributing to the ongoing conversation. If they DO manage to take part in the conversation that’s flowing around them, they’re only waiting on their chance to say what they have to say—not listening to what other people have to contribute.
I’ve noticed that in many romance books, the hero is not listening to the heroine because he wants to; he listens for information he might be able to use. A classic example of this is Sweet Savage Love. Oh, how I loved that book, and still do—but I do recognize that in today’s world there are some problems with it. Steve really doesn’t see Ginny as a person with wants and needs and desires—his goal is to make sure the intrigue that’s happening around him is manipulated to his plans, and Ginny is there to slake his sexual thirst. He does fall in love with her, but for much of the book, we know she is very much in love with him…and aren’t so sure he has any feelings for her at all above the sexual desire he feels every time they’re in a room together.
So our hero needs to actively listen to what the heroine is saying (which is going to require him to think about what she says) and he is going to need to be “present” mentally and emotionally—not just physically—when they’re having a conversation.
As for the heroine? Voicing an opinion or a conviction about a subject she feels strongly about is imperative. This is usually not a problem for the hero—he’s out fighting for the cause, or going after the bad guys, and so on. But for our heroine, in a time when women were to be silent, well…our heroines can’t be held to that rule. You’ve heard the word “feisty” used to describe heroines of many books. That’s a nice way of saying, “A heroine who has her own opinions and isn’t afraid to stand up and be counted!” If a heroine isn’t interested in any social injustices around her, or doesn’t have a cause of her own of some kind, what does she do to be interesting? Constant parties or working on needlepoint doesn’t make for an interesting person. She must have something to care about—something that might even come between her and the hero.
In my book, Gabriel's Law, Brandon Gabriel and Allison Taylor were at the same orphanage together for a few years as children. It's Allie's dream to open her home to young boys who can help her raise cattle, investing in their futures. Brandon has no dreams...but as adults,when Allie saves his life, her dreams become his without his even realizing it's happening.
Remember, in dialogue, the most important key to keep your characters from being boring is letting them tell their story in an interesting way. Keeping a secret until the end of the dialogue, a secret the reader may know but the heroine is keeping from the hero, then springing it on him in a bombshell, is an interesting way of making the facts known. But it does something more—it shows personality traits about both the hero and the heroine. More on that next time!
What's something one of your heroines cares passionately about? What about one of your heroes? Does he have something he believes in that makes him interesting? Leave a comment for a chance to win a digital copy of GABRIEL'S LAW! Don't forget to include your contact information. I look forward to hearing what you all have to say! And this is for everyone--if you aren't a writer, tell us about a character(s) you've read about and what made them interesting to you.