Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Memorable characters

There's a new book out on the market, a biography about classic film actress Hedy Lamarr. One of the sex symbols of her time, the new look at her life talks about more than her acting career. It discusses her passion for inventing, and goes into detail how this beauty was smart, too.

Who would've thought it? I certainly didn't. I've always dismissed Lamarr as a second-rate actress who skated by on her looks, and while that might be true, it's not the whole story. In fact, she's an excellent model for any of us writers, not just that beautiful women can be smart, too, but by showing that there's always more to a person that meets the eye.

It's easy to give a character a lot of positive attributes. We want our readers to like them, to be able to relate to them. But giving them diversity without sacrificing the core of who they are? Giving them weaknesses so they can make mistakes? That's harder. A lot harder. Some writers miss the mark, but then again, there are readers out there who like the perfect people, too. There's something for everybody.

But most of us want some realism in what we read. We want characters we can believe in, even if they happen to be vampires or live on a different planet where everybody has mental telepathy. It's the need for emotional truth as well a desire for someone who isn't always what they seem to be. We go through our lives in a constant learning state. The people we know the best can still find ways to surprise us years after we think we know everything about them. It keeps us engaged and interested when people show new depths, and the same holds true for fictional characters.

So the next time you sit down to sketch out a protagonist, think about not just what makes them strong, but what makes them weak. What makes them human. The most exciting plot in the world doesn't mean a damn if the reader doesn't care about the people involved in it. And it's our job to make sure that happens.


Denny S. Bryce said...

Hey there. Great post. Just wondered over to see what was up and discovered this nugget of info. Thanks for sharing.