Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Spunky vs. Whiny-Ass, Annoying Characters

Okay, talk about setting myself up for ridicule here, but I just had to do a post on this subject. (g) I've noticed a trend lately (no book names will be mentioned -- and no, it's not any of the books I've reviewed and/or talked about on this blog). As of late, I've seen a lot of characters described as "spunky" "stubborn" "rebellious", etc... but when you read them, they just come across as total spoiled brats...and I not only want to throw the book at the wall, but would love to personally slap the fictional character upside the head. LOL.

I'll be the first to admit that my characters are a little...whiny at times. Or as D.A. put it... complete grumps. (g) But thankfully, people have really taken to them. I got to thinking on the subject... why is it people like these characters and don't want to personally throttle them? Okay, so maybe you do, but other than my sister, no one has mentioned the overwhelming urge to off one of my girls. And she's the biggest grump I know...so there ya go. lol.

So... what is it?? It's one for the stars, but I'm gonna give it a shot. (g)

Let me list some of the things that annoy me. Maybe you can come up with a list of your own for future reference.

- any character that stomps their feet when they're angry or impassioned. It reminds me of a two year old throwing a tantrum on the kitchen floor.

- any character who acts belligerently for NO reason whatsoever...and never really apologizes for being a complete pain in the ass. This is of course usually in front of the love interest and the guy ALWAYS thinks it's cute. Yeah.. that just bugs. At least my male MC's seek revenge for those moments. LOL. It's especially bad when the character's actions could put the other characters in danger.

- anyone who complains _constantly_. Gah, you characters know who you are! I mean, goodness... suck it up. You're usually not the only one suffering, but hell if you aren't the loudest voice...usually the only voice...complaining. If you're going to complain, at least 'fess up to being a pain in the rear.

- any character who doesn't know when it's time to be serious and think of others before themselves.

- okay, this is a personal pet peeve -- male characters who roll their eyes. Talk about wussy. But that's just me. I know I'm in a huge minority on this one.

- any character who can't save themselves from time to time. Okay, sometimes female characters get into legitimate trouble and need help -- but there needs be times when she's able to stand on her own and THINK on her feet. A damsel who's always in distress is just annoying.

- any character who doesn't have some serious flaws -- that's one big ole' flaw in and of itself, imho. Let's take Madison from Faking It. Flaws: Mouth like a truck driver, one serious addiction to gambling, her way of "coping" is to drink, and she, well... she really likes sex. LOL. (Hmm, that's not really a flaw, but it adds an interesting element to the book.)

- MARY SUE'S!!!!! OMG. If you're living out your fantasy life through your characters... STOP, DROP, and ROLL. If I see another character who has the perfect singing voice, is drop-dead gorgeous without trying, is always playing the martyr to those around her, I'm gonna gag. That goes for any character who has all the money in the world but is constantly boo-hooing how tough their life is. Not that I'm saying money solves all of your problems, but heyzeus, your life isn't anywhere near as tough as someone who has to work hard to make ends meet AND deal with all the crap life dishes you.

Okay, I'll leave it there for now... feel free to add to the list. (g)

So, how do you overcome these annoying characteristics? I mean, all of your characters will probably display one (or most) of them at one time or another. One of the things I do is to try and offset these moments with things that really ground or humanize my characters -- show them in a vulnerable/exposed situation.

One example -- In CHILD OF THE MIST, there's the famous brank scene. Not to give too much away, but my character was being a _complete_ idiot in that scene. She created such an uproar, she put both her life and my male Mc's life in danger. But despite this, I still had people siding with her in the end when I put her through a horrific ordeal... I'm still shocked over what I did to her. LOL. But dang it, people forgave her for everything she did to bring the situation upon them.

In FAKING IT, Madison is such a grouch. LOL. She bitches about a lot of stuff... is constantly complaining about her job... wants nothing more than to GET OUT of undercover work, etc. One thing I try to do with her is to show her conflicting emotions over doing undercover drug work. At times she's so high on finally getting her guy... and next she's lower than low when she busts someone whom she knows will lose custody of his kids once the hammer comes down... She goes from a near smackdown with a group of elderly women to envying a couple who have been married for a good 50 plus years. She also knows when to admit defeat and the fact that she's behaving like a jerk...

So, what are your pet peeves? What traits in characters annoy you to no end? And what things do you do in order to make your audience side with your flawed MC's (I hope they're flawed, anyway)? (g)

And...this is just a random thought... Do you think your female MC's are a reflection of YOU?

For me, YES...but amplified.


Carol said...

Hi Jen,
Off on a tangent! I love it. You're right on the money with these points.

My pet peeve...when a female character is more of a man than the male mc. If I read about one more 'kick-ass' character, I will build a fire in the middle of B&N with said book. Why can't she be feminine and get the job done?

I think all characters are a reflection of us to some degree. Honestly, I feel you have to step outside of yourself and look at the character. What does she need to be like to tell this story? She might need to be strong and assertive, but don't make her Ramboesque. A good writer can show her vulnerability as well as her strength. You do that and you'll have a well rounded character that will appeal to several different groups of people.

Jen said...


Oh yes, I forgot the other end of the spectrum -- the She-Ra characters. Untouchable and unruffled...never a hair out of place even though they're in a knock-out, smack-down fight with 5 HUGE men who are heavily armed.

As for characters reflecting us...yeah, I agree. I'd say Morgan and Madison are closest to me in attitude... although, Madison often says things I only _wish_ I could say. LOL. But I'm just as sarcastic and grumpy half the time.. But that kind of character would NEVER work for The Braeden...and most likely wouldn't work for BTPM. Even so, I do think slivers of me slip in from time to time. Most likely because of writing in 1st and using my "method writing" techniques.

Oh well, as I said, no one has hated them yet... or at least had the cajones to say so to my face. (g)


Beth said...

Do you think your female MC's are a reflection of YOU?

No, but one of my male characters probably could be. [g]

Actually, I think of characters as not being a reflection of myself but a refraction. A very different thing. And this has given me an idea to blog about...

I don't like whiny, bratty characters. I quit reading Robin Hobbs because of this. And I despise books where the author confuses fighting with conflict. Oh, and I agree Carol about masculinized female characters--and for that matter, feminized male characters.

Jen said...


Yes...the feminine male MC's. Ugh. For me, that's any male that rolls his eyes. LOL. I know, I know...it's me. (g)

I'll admit I've never actually stopped reading a book because of the characters, but I've come dang close. (g)


P.S. And I'll have to check out your blog post!