Monday, March 21, 2011

Keeping It Real

Thought for the day: Howcum noses run and feet smell?

Years ago,  late-night TV carried commercials that urged viewers to grab their credit cards, pick up their phones, and order their very own genuine faux pearls NOW! NOW! NOW!

Remember those ads? Hysterical, right? But at least nobody could say the advertisers didn't tell the truth. They didn't try to pretend those pearls were anything more than they were. Pretty fakes.

Now there's another new commercial that totally cracks me up. Now you TOO can own a genuine reproduction of the ring Prince William gave his fiancee! Wow! It features a beautiful genuine fake sapphire in the middle, surrounded by beautiful genuine fake diamonds! And get this! It even comes with its very own letter of authenticity! (Ohmigod, how can we possibly pass up a deal like that?)

But, again, at least they're telling the truth about it. Nothing shady here.

                                             They didn't put together a bunch of pretty rocks
                                              And try to pass them off as priceless gems.

As writers, it's up to us to create characters that are so realistic, so genuine, that readers accept them as the true gems we intend them to be. If our characters are predictable and two-dimensional, our product becomes nothing more than those genuine faux pearls they used to hawk on TV.

Based on the kazillions of books I've read, here's my thoughts on what it takes to make a character come alive for me. The two major points are:
  • A believable bad guy is never entirely bad. Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lector was one of the creepiest bad guys of all time, but he was also extremely intelligent and knew how to be quite charming. What magnifies the ick factor about a bad guy for me is when I can identify with him in some way, by either seeing something of myself, or someone I know, in him. Maybe he's a serial killer, but by God, he has to be home on Wednesday night to watch American Idol. He's a rapist, but he takes tender loving care of every stray cat in his neighborhood. He's a love 'em and leave 'em dude, but he visits his mother in the nursing home every Sunday afternoon.
  • By the same token, the good guy has to have some flaws to be believable. It's hard to sympathize with someone who comes across as perfect. Assuming we want the reader to care about the good guy, he needs to have idiosyncracies, or flaws, or simply has to screw up sometimes. It wouldn't hurt for that drop-dead gorgeous heroine with the perfect skin to get a zit every now and then. Or for the hunky guy with the abs of steel to break wind once in a while. Or to have a crooked nose, or heck! Let him pick his nose! One of my favorite heroines is Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. She certainly isn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but she sure is believable. And likeable.
That's just my three cents' worth. (Inflation.) How about you? Who's your favorite villain? Your favorite hero? Are they multi-dimensional? If not, what made them memorable for you?

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


1 comment:

  1. Amen. You are absolutely right. Perfect evil or perfect...um, perfection *grin*...is boring. Got mix it up a little.

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