“A recent comment about one of my fictional characters brought up the following thoughts in me.
I know that bravery, attractive cheerleaders and bulging biceps alpha males are the stuff that great dreams and heroic tales are made of.
Of course it is inspiring to read about the people who are fearless and unbreakable.
Authors want to write role models and set good examples.
So characters can become brave, unfallible and larger than life, so that the readers find them likeable and make your book a bestseller.
What about the more normal humans? Those only partially heroic or good? The flawed, the ‘spinesless’ ‘weak’ or even the ‘cowards’ ? Should we write about them in anything but a derogative way? Who are they anyway? Surely not us?
Hand on heart: Who of us is sure they would hold up under torture? Who would be sure not to save their own skin if pushed against the wall and forced to make an unthinkable choice?
We’re creating false illusions about heroism and unrealistic expectations about people.
What about representation and realism?
Don’t get me wrong. I love the fearless hero, too, I admire his actions and wish I could be like him. But I’m probably not going to live up to his standards, however hard I would like to do so.
Sometimes, however, I’m tired of watching or reading about the big-chested models and biceps-bulging machos with their super-powers who never fail and who can make the reader feel small and inadequate for being a regular human.
Isn’t it the era of the geek and the anti-hero, a time where we come to realise that everyone has their place in our world – brave or weak, attractive or regular? That everyone is unique, with good and bad sides, individual strengths and doesn’t have to be perfect?
I’m writing a lot of WW2 fiction and I doubt that all the soldiers in that era were of the alpha-male type, as much of the fiction written about that time leads us to believe. In my novels I focus on characters who are not perfect, who are afraid, who act ‘human’ because I believe that is reality and that doesn’t need to be judged so harshly.
Only because a drag queen may cower in the corner when faced with brutal violence it doesn’t make her a lesser person. She has her place in society and might be the support that stops someone from committing suicide, the person nursing you to health, bailing you out or winning the Grammy or Eurovision Song Contest.
(Thanks for that speech Conchita!)
Now to the case of my character Ludwika: A woman who moves to Germany and leaves her child behind with her sister and mother – in exchange for the promise of safety for her family – is she out of her mind or the opposite? Ludwika is actually based on a real person and who are we to judge her decisions at the time? Doing the heroic or ‘done’ thing often doesn’t help anyone under Nazi rule; and not everyone is a warrior type with unbeatable strength.
I remember the key scene in “The Reader”. A woman has the choice to follow orders and keep a door locked, by doing so allowing multiple deaths to occur. But if she opens the door to free the captives, she will be killed herself by those who gave her the orders. I’d like to think I’d have opened the door, but can I be sure? What would you have done?
So if you read any of my novels, you’ll meet some bravery but no glorification and super humans. You’ll get real characters who may be good but not perfect. These are characters that I can relate to more than the hero stereotype. They won’t make you feel inadequate when reading about them but it doesn’t have to mean they are lesser human beings, less likeable or don’t have good sides to them. They all have a story to tell.
It is my believe that it is ok to be flawed and human and ok to write characters that way.
What do you think?