How Real Is Too Real?

posted in: Books, Michelle McLean | 10

As a writer, I sometimes find it hard to find that exact right balance between real and fantasy. Because as a reader, while I want to be able to relate to the characters I’m reading about, I also want enough fantasy that I can escape from my everyday life and splash around in someone else’s world for awhile.

That usually means that along with all the crazy situations my characters can get into, they also need to be as flawed as real life people. But sometimes, I think writers can go a little overboard with the flaws. They give their characters so many flaws that they either become difficult to relate toΒ or just plain unlikable.

eyeA year or so ago, I tried reading a book that everyone on the interwebs had been raving about. The series had an interesting premise and it was a genre I enjoyed reading. But the main character….oh that poor main character. She was a teenage girl, so yes a little angst and whining was called for. But she was SO whiny that by the end of the first chapter I couldn’t stand her.

I tried to stick with it, but by the end of the second chapter she irritated me so much I was actively rooting for bad things to happen to her. Probably not what the author was aiming for πŸ™‚ I didn’t make it past the third chapter.

So with my own characters, I try very hard to give them just the right amount of irritating realness without going too far in the wrong direction. Hopefully I’ve succeeded πŸ™‚

How real do you like the characters you read to be? Have you ever come across a main character that you were supposed to love but ended up despising?

Follow Michelle McLean:

Michelle McLean is a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl who is addicted to chocolate and Goldfish crackers and spent most of her formative years with her nose in a book. She has a B.S. in History, a M.A. in English, and a knack for explaining complicated things to uncomplicated people. Michelle's non-fiction works include guides on how to write essays, term papers, literary analysis essays, and poetry. She also writes romance with a good dose of mystery and humor, historicals, and a paranormal here and there. When Michelle's not editing, reading or chasing her kids around, she can usually be found in a quiet corner working on her next book. She resides in PA with her husband and two children, an insanely hyper dog, and three very spoiled cats.

10 Responses

  1. Harliqueen

    A very good question and post! I totally agree, I want to be able to relate to characters, but I also need a good amount of escapism.

    I’m not a big fan of ‘feisty’ women, a lot of the time they come off as overly aggressive or snarky and that puts me off quite a bit.

    I do love characters who are real, who are strong, but they aren’t starting fights with everyone, or acting tough in situations where you just couldn’t be. I think I like those the best πŸ˜€

    • Michelle McLean

      Agreed! That might be why I like historicals so much. In historicals, you can have uber macho men who avenge their love’s honor without consequence, where today, if a boyfriend clobbered a man who was picking on his girl, he’d get sued and/or arrested. As for feisty women, I like them but to a degree. As you said, it can go too far. I like women who are intelligent and gutsy enough to rescue themselves when possible, but who will also accept help from her main squeeze. A kick-butt heroine with just enough damsel-in-distress to allow her love to save her now and again πŸ˜‰ I also don’t mind a character who complains every now and then or who gets angry at their situation (to a point), but a character who spends the whole book whining “why me??” No thanks. I’d rather see them suck it up and deal with the situation than spend the whole book lamenting it πŸ™‚

      • Harliqueen

        Exactly πŸ˜€ You need a character who is independent, and can deal with things herself, but is willing to let people in πŸ™‚

  2. Violetta Rand

    Thanks for the great question, Michelle. Fortunately, I’ve been very lucky to not find a character I didn’t like in any book I’ve read in romance (although that doesn’t mean the overall book was great). BUT, I’ve found this in regular fiction and in movies. When I first started writing, I learned quickly what Too Stupid to Live means for my own characters.

  3. Barbara Monajem

    I have the same problem with overly feisty women, because sometimes they merely seem contrary for no good reason.

    I have also been known to like the villain better than the hero! πŸ˜‰

    • eileendandashi

      I agree with you there Barbara. It’s nicer to find the really strong woman who can get herself out of a situation and handle the emotion she’s under without irritating the dickens out of everyone including the reader.

  4. Sandra Owens

    Such a good question, Michelle. Several years ago, I read a book by a well known author, one whose books I’d enjoyed previously. The heroine, in her mid-twenties, acted worse than a spoiled thirteen year old. I finished the book, but even at the end all I could think was, why does the hero love that brat??? It truly is a fine line to get the balance between flawed and perfect right.