I'm chipping away at the long list of blog topics people asked me to write about, and this is one that I'm afraid to write about, as I don't think I have written enough to chime in on it. But when I voiced my doubt, my readers shouted at me that, yes, I can, I've written great characters. Well then, you guys know better, I suppose, as we writers are always too hard on ourselves. Let me spill here what I think, and you tell me what you think or if this was helpful to you. Deal?
Stereotypes are familiar yet forgettable. It's easy to use a stereotypical character as a crutch. Everyone loves a certain type of a character and is familiar with it. We all have grown up with them, both in life and in fiction. Heroes. Villains. Father figures. Mother figures. These are the big ones. There are also the typical sulky teenager, the dull librarian, the sexy chick, the nerdy boy or the macho guy. See, this is why I was afraid to write this, as I'm not 100% familiar with American-specific stereotypes in fiction, sort of am translating in my head right now. Anyway. Back to the point. You can plan out your novel with great character types and gloriously set out to writing it. Here is the problem, though. Unless you know what it's like being one of those stereotypes, you will most likely fail. Number one, readers will feel the characters are fake and flat, and they'll be bored because they have read books with characters like that over and over again. Result: they will likely forget your character as soon as they're done with the book. Number two, you will get bored yourself writing it, because you get satisfaction from writing something you know, something that rings true to you, something that you've been carrying inside and are dying to share. And if you're bored writing it, your reader will be bored reading it. Unless you've lived a lot of life and know how to spice up a stereotypical character with flaws and imperfections, I would steer clear of it. Which leads me to the next point.
Non-perfect characters are hard to write yet unforgettable. Why exactly are they hard to write? Because usually they're very close to who you are as a writer. The best stuff you write is always based on your deepest truest self. If you've been through a lot of shit and a lot of life and a lot of love and joy and grief and every possible emotion there is, you will be capable of showing this array of emotions in your characters. We're all non-perfect. That's why we relate best to imperfection. Even the most glorious hero must have a fear of darkness or secretly carry a blanket from his childhood to soothe himself in the moments of dire need. Even the most powerful mother figure must have weaknesses in order for us to believe in her, to believe she is real, she can exist in this world. Because we're building a fake world in our novels in such a way so as to make people think it's real. That's what carries them away, what makes them forget their daily struggles and disappear into a good story. And it's these flaws in the characters that we remember most. Take Humbert Humbert from LOLITA. Can you be any more flawed than that? And what about Scarlett O'Hara? Or Peter Pan? Or Harry Potter? They all have huge flaws, and we love them for it.
Write from people you know. There is this thing that somebody said and everybody always repeats everywhere, write what you know. I think it applies here. Don't worry about your characters being stereotypical or not stereotypical, perfect of imperfect, or whatever. Write what you feel, what you know, what you've seen and experienced. Write characters that ring true to you, no matter how crazy they might seem to others, or even to you. Deep in your gut you know that people like this exist. For example, I'm a little scared to start writing IRKADURA because I have seen so many weird strange personalities in my life, growing up in Soviet Union, that when I tell stories to my American friends, they always raise eyebrows, or exclaim, Wow, there are really people like that? You're not making this up? And I'm like, Nope, I'm not making this up, it's real. But see, it's because I know it's real, because I feel it's real when writing it, whoever will read it will feel that those people are real, not just fictional characters, and that's my goal as a writer, to make you believe in my stories. Oh, one more thing I forgot to mention. Somebody asked me recently how I write characters of the opposite gender and if I have any tips on that. Well, that's my tip. Write from people you know, it will always ring true.
Can I stress one more point here, the one that I've been stressing many times and you're probably sick of hearing? Well, hate me all you want, but I will repeat it once more. Please, please, PLEASE, don't worry about characters being written properly, or your novel structure being correct, or the length of your chapters, or any of that smart shit. Forget it. JUST WRITE. Just write your story the way you would tell it to a friend, or to whomever you want to tell it. As long as you stay true to storytelling, as in, every sentence should push it forward, like this happened, then this happened, then this happened, then this happened, you'll do fine. The more you write, the better you will feel all these smart things people like to talk about, character types and novel types and genres and structures and whatever else. The lesson I learned, you can read as much about writing as you want, it will not teach you how to write. Only writing will teach you how to write. Even my blog - I keep writing it, attempting to answer your questions, but my main goal is to hold your hand, to make you feel like it's okay to just write, despite the fact that you're scared and think you don't know how to do it. I'm scared too, I don't know how to do it too, but I'm still doing it. Do it with me. Let's keep writing.