28 March 2012

Inadequacy Central

Or Why I Don't Like Special Characters!

You may (or not :) have noticed that I have been reading far less paranormal romance and urban fantasy books than I used too. This is because of the rise of the 'special character'. And by 'special character' I mean those characters that have everything going for them and more. Those characters that everything revolves around. They are popular: most readers like them, most authors write them. I loathe them. Why? It's simple really (and a 'me' thing). I compare myself to them and come up...wanting. I'm...inadequate. By the time I finish the book I'm...despondent (for lack of a better word). Yes, I know they are fictional characters, so I guess what I'm saying it I want realism. I want flaws. I want the not so beautiful, the not so extraordinarily talented and intelligent, the not so feisty (oh do I hate that word!) character (be they male or female) to get the guy. Because that makes me feel that is may be possible (for me)..

And yes, I know feeling inadequate is not a good reason to dislike a character. After all, it's my issue, not their issue. I was chatting about this with my lovely friend Kerry from Too Many Books earlier today and Kerry made a really good point. (And I hope I have articulated this correctly.) The author doesn't need to make a character 'special' in order for the reader (OK, me) to buy into the character. And they definitely don't need to make them more 'special' as the book/series progresses (e.g. Anita Blake). Not. Necessary. Instead, all they need (IMHO) to do is give the character a solid foundation and allow the character's thoughts and actions to speak for them. Patricia Briggs is a great example of an author not imbuing her character (Mercy Thompson) with endless 'special' traits. Mercy isn't what I would call pretty. She's in her early thirties, so no ingenue. While she is a Coyote walker, her coyote form, while fast and agile, is no match for a werewolf when it comes to strength. And Mercy is aware of this. She is like a willow, bending when required (instead of attempting to mimic King Canute and stop the tide), but otherwise standing firm. I love characters like that!

So, what type of character drives you to spit tacks? And how much realism do you like in your books?


  1. I don't necessarily compare myself to such characters and find myself lacking - it's more that they're so perfect, I can't relate to them at all. If that makes any sense? It's our flaws and how we overcome them (or don't) that make our stories interesting.

  2. When I read a PNR I don't expect realism at all. When reading a contemporary PNR there are some things that I roll my eyes at but I don't expect things to be realistic. I guess for me this goes toward the characters as well. When reading contemporary or historical romance I expect them to be completely realistic. I don't really ever compare myself to any characters in books because I'm usually never even close. Probably because I lead such a normal life I would never be a fictional romance heroine! lol Not enough excitement. :)

  3. Mercy Thompson is exactly the kind of character I prefer to read about for all the reasons you name in your post. There's got to be realism in characters for me to take a book seriously. Otherwise a book is just entertaining fluff--which has it's place sometimes, too.

    I think I do more empathizing and relating to characters than I do comparing myself to them. I actually try not to compare myself to anyone--real or fictional. Although I am guilty for doing the the physical comparison thing once in a while at the gym.. more the physique thing, specifically relating to features we can control. Like waistline. But that's another post. lol!

  4. I can only take those characters in small doses, but after a while, it gets annoying. I want to feel like I can relate to the characters I'm reading, so perfection is not it.

  5. I don't ever feel inadequate, but I do dislike certain characters that are just too perfect for words... I've been put off by a few Nora Roberts books lately because of this. They are just PERFECT and soooooo good at everything they do, makes me dislike them immensely. I don't really compare myself to them, but I wonder what the freak I have to do to achieve perfection... and then I realize I'm too lazy ;) I do get what you're saying, some characters are just unlikable. It's happened on a lot of occasions for me, but I'm OK with it :)

  6. Just found your blog via Chris' Linkety : )
    I'm totally with you on this. It's probably why I don't read paranormals much. I have a soft spot for the underdog, or at least, an MC with vulnerabilities or flaws of some kind. In fact, I have a real soft spot for characters who are physically weak in some way....geeky or blind as bats without their glasses (probably not going to happen in a PNR, I know)or like Josh Lanyon's Adrien English who has a heart murmur. When they get their man, despite all obstacles, it's so much sweeter and I cheer even louder. : D

  7. Chris - *nods* I definitely need my characters to be relatable.

    It's our flaws and how we overcome them (or don't) that make our stories interesting.

    Exactly! It's the journey that draws me in.

    Tracy - that's a really good point. I don't except realism (in terms of the world building) in PNR or fantasy, but I do expect it in terms of the characters. I just have to be difficult :) And I could so see you as a romance heroine...because to me a romance heroine is special in all the ways that count - loyalty, strength, determination, (com)passion. You're all that and more IMHO :)

    Christine - I *heart* Mercy. I think my problem is I've lost the ability to just let the entertaining fluff roll over me. I look for more. And I think one of the things I need to learn to not do is compare. Looking for realism is good, but comparing - it's not helpful.

  8. little alys - yes! I've had quite a bit of time away from such characters. So far my time back with them has been OK.

    Mariana - I so hear you on the perfection. Unfortunately, I'm a perfectionist, so such characters have me turning myself inside out to be perfect. Working on getting over that and liking me for me. (Loving me might take a while :) And don't get me started on NR. I've only read her Chesapeake Bay series, but I could go on iad infinitium about Roarke. Interestingly, I have an In Death book to read next :)

    Litchi - welcome :) And yes - I love those characters too. They face such obstables, and watching them conquer them is far more satisfying than facing down Teh Evel Dude :)

  9. Personally, I like both types of characters for different reasons. I will say that the stories I re-read are generally those with great, relatable characters.

    I read a paranormal last night (Modeling Death by Amber Kell). There are two male main characters (duh, I know); one of whom is a model that is perfectly pretty and perfectly charming, and one of whom is a paranormal cop. The pretty and charming model is that way for a specific reason, things like relationships don't necessarily happen easily for him and there are people that hate him *for* that beauty and charm. The paranormal cop screws up with the model from their first meeting; he's also possessive, rude, and a jackass at times. Even though this is a novella, I think the characters are well developed and their interaction funny, sweet, and hot interchangeably. For those with a m/m bent, I recommend Ms. Amber Kell for paranormals with great characters that aren't perfect.

    For the stories with "perfect" characters, I generally read them as "mind candy" when I don't want anything heavy to read. I tend to stick to those novels with great, interesting characters, though. I just tend to buy based on characters more than anything else.

  10. Great points. I've read some of Amber Kell's earlier books and enjoyed them, but I've discovered over the past year or so that's it's the flawed characters I'm drawn to. I like heavy books :) And I want characterization more than plot (although I do want some plot :)

  11. This is interesting. I, too, love PNR, Mercy in particular. I find that I love the flawed characters because they have, well, character. Like Tracy, I don't expect realism in my PNR, but too much perfection is not only annoying, but also boring. How can a character grow if they are already so darn great?

    That being said, when I am in the mood for some fast, fun entertainment those extra "special" characters sometimes feed the craving. Ultimately, though, I need more substance.

  12. Shannon - welcome! *nods* Yes! Flawed characters have character! I want the edges, the rough spots. All of that :)