Most writers feel a certain level of affection toward their characters. They are, in a sense, our babies. We’ve named them, given them their looks, and are prone to yell at them when they aren’t cooperating.
Sounds a lot like my child, or as I often refer to him on the internet, The Spawn.
And just as with babies in real life, some of us struggle to let go. To put them on their own two feet and let them make mistakes. I don’t know about you, but there are some books out there that have characters so unbelievably, disgustingly perfect that I . . .well, I kind of hate them. Or at least, I never care enough to root for them because all their perfecty-ness is boring and obnoxious. Sure, a great, racing and winding plot from start to finish is fun, but if Chase the Great is incredibly giving (but not so much to look like a pushover), funny (but not so much to ever be considered a troublemaker), and naturally adorable (but not too much to compete with Gram’s cats) well . . .he sure doesn’t have a lot of places for his personality to develop, now does he?
I was a “good” kid. (I use quotation marks because my mother would argue with me on this.) But at school, I was a good kid. I didn’t bully, I did my work, I didn’t get in trouble. All in all, I had a reasonably normal albeit somewhat boring upbringing.
Except that one time I was kicked out of Girl Scouts.
Sounds bad, right?
It kind of was.
But I should say that I wasn’t technically kicked out so much as not asked back. As in, never got any further communications on events and the like. But I wasn’t alone! My best friend, forever to be known as my partner in crime, was also no longer included as well.
So what happened, you ask? Well, other than the fact we rarely did the work to receive badges (by rarely I mean never. If it wasn’t one we worked on during the actual meetings, we weren’t doing it.). Then during the annual camping trip, the BFF and I stayed up the entire night talking extremely loud even though our troop leader continuously told us “Lights out!”. When everyone woke the next morning, every single camping plot surrounding us–all full when we had arrived–had magically emptied of their patrons. Evidently the sweet old couples that had surrounded us the day before weren’t too keen on not getting a wink of sleep due to some chatterbox pre-teens.
Then came the big finale. We weren’t the nicest to a certain girl. Said girl happened to be the daughter of our troop leader. We teased a bit. Excluded her from our “secrets”. While we certainly could’ve been meaner, we weren’t anything close to nice.
It wasn’t my best moment. But it was one of a million little moments that pieced together my growing up. And isn’t that what we’re trying to capture in a novel? A single snapshot of someone’s life when things aren’t perfect and might not turn out to be, but they learn. From their mistakes, they grow.
So next time you sit down to work on spit-shining up that new character, be sure to throw in some flaws. Some situations where they don’t react the way they should. Push those little babies out the door and toss ’em a box of band aids.