Thursday, August 30, 2012

September Characters: Your Main Character

You all remember my post on "normal" characters, right? Let's get a little more nitty gritty. These aren't by far all of the character archetypes you can have, but these are the ones that strike my fancy. Don't mind the rambling. The first two are female main characters, the second two are for the males. You'll see I sort of just put them in two different categories: strong and not so strong. The key, of course, is a good character arch. No one wants to read about a character who learns nothing on their journey.

The Strong Female Lead: Or, as I like to call them, the Spice Girls of the literary world (girl power bands, get it?). These girls start strong, are independent, self sufficint (enter Bella, page two, before she meets Edward). Definitely the type of character mothers want their daughters reading. They don't need a boy, or help. They sneer at the damsels in distress. All well and good, but if you're writing a strong female lead, don't forget to make them fallible. One of the biggest mistakes I see in YA is the girl who starts strong but either remains too strong throughout and therefore doesn't have a big enough character arch, or doesn't stay true and falls too hard or makes mistakes that are out of character--these are allowed of course, but remember their motivations must be warrented. A SFL (you get it, it's an acronym!) is very succesful in Adult Urban Fantasy (a must really, unless you're writing the cozy stuff, which I love). And a SFL in Paranormal Romance is guarenteed to be a burr under a strong male's saddle. These SFLs must have a character arch. They must start from somewhere and journey to another place (become softer, learn to let another person in, drop their guard, etc).

The Weak Female Lead (or WFL): These are the timid girls, the wall flowers, the girls who don't want to attract the vampire or lead a revolution (I could argue for Katniss to be in this category). But by a twist of fate or Shakesperean ploy, are thrust into the limelight, sink or swim, taken under a boy's wing and turned into a beautiful swan, bitten and turned into a werewolf. They turn into a strong character, or at least, a brand new shiny version of the original. I mentioned cozies above, which have female leads that are a fun mix of strong and weak (The Underworld Detection Agency, How to Host a Killer Party series, even the Sookie Stackhouse novels), with thirty-something women who aren't all the way put together but can stand on their own two feet.

The Badass: Leather, tattooes, misunderstood, brooding, quick temper, dark past, deep eyes, tortured soul. You know what I'm saying, ladies. The reason I love Paranormal Romance. They might be all dark and dangerous, but when it comes to that one girl, their soul mate, they're putty, they turn into a better version of themselves, while remaining true of course. Hold their girl's hand with one hand, pummel the bad guy with the other. They can't remain stoic throughout. They have to change, perhaps fight the change, but change nonetheless. In YA, you have to remember that no teenage boy is actually able to perfect this image of badassed perfection. They'll crack eventually. And man, do we love when the badass is vulnerable.

The Softy: Also known as the geek, the poet, the musician (who can also be a badass), the nerd (different from geek, of course). This is the boy who takes our expectations and spins it on its head. They're smart, funny, the boy next door, but do not underestimate him. A well done softy can be a really fun read. In YA my favorite is Cricket from Lola and the Boy Next Door. Very smart, great dresser, sensitive. Susan Elizabeth Phillips does a great job with the softies (Adult Romance). Dex from Lady Be Good (okay, Dexter is actually a secondary character) sneaks right in there to just charm your pants off.

Happy writing!


Eric Steinberg said...

Nice post. Everyone wants to write original characters, but to some extent all of them will be largely tropes of some sort.

My personal favorite website for getting character ideas is one that largely has TV tropes, but also has movies and books. It has the ones you mentioned plus many variations.

Sarah Faulkner said...

I love SFL who end up relying on WFL. Great post!

~Sarah Faulkner

Unknown said...

Hi Vickie,

I just signed up to follow your blog today, and I want to say how useful your information has been to me, especially the details about YA characters from Aug 30.

Looking forward to hearing more :)

Miranda Rae Carter

Jai Joshi said...

There are definite character archetypes but I don't think of my characters as archetypes. I think of them as people with many different layers and with souls. They may seem weak in one way but in another way they are strong. They might be appear to be bad people in one way and in another are they are very good. So it's a complicated matter for me because I try to make my characters as real as possible.