When I first started writing, all of my characters were beautiful women with power and no weaknesses. All of them. I guess this was because growing up I didn’t consider myself beautiful (how very few of us ever really do anyway?) nor powerful (because in high school beauty and power go hand in hand-and if I were being honest I’d say it was the confidence born from being attractive that is the real power and be closer to the heart of it, but that is a discussion or another time), and I had plenty of weaknesses. So it only makes sense these women I wrote about would be everything I could never be, or thought I could never be. Reading back through an old journal recently, besides being really embarrassed at the childish writing, I was stuck by how unapproachable these characters really were.
How do you connect with a goddess that never does wrong and had a cruel streak? How do you connect with an assassin that does not regret any hit she ever makes? How do you connect with a heroine who gets the guy in the first page? The worst part was the lack of development, the utter flatness, of these characters. Every move was predictable, every reaction without the burden of emotion. I hated these women re-reading them because there was no character arc. These women began and ended every story unchanged, perhaps with the addition of the king’s gratitude or the love interest in the end, but they themselves did not come to any grand realization. The goddess didn’t recognize the value of humanity, the assassin does not regret her choice of jobs, the heroine keeps the guy from the first page without effort or self-examination.
I won’t say this changed overnight. I was still drawn to the ‘perfection’ in these women, a perfection that as I aged I saw ever farther and farther away. Still I changed and because of that my writing changed. I started to see myself as having a beauty. I found power that fit me. And my weaknesses, well they were still there but not as raw as they had once been. Finding these things in myself was only the first step though, now I had to transfer it to my writing.
It was a little thing at first, teaching my characters one of my greatest assets…how to laugh. How to laugh at themselves and the things around them. I gave them a sense of humor. I gave them MY sense of humor and found I related to them in a whole new way. They were multi-dimensional beings worth exploring and developing! What a realization. I began making my characters into a rainbow of people, not just the same mannequin over and over. I gave my characters flaws. Short-tempered or fearful, vain or hopelessly innocent I gave them things I had inside that I never wanted to expose to the world, because it was not in my view of the story’s perfection.
My current character, Harmony Vasquez is a tender woman who works with kids. She is fearful when things get dangerous, but she digs inside for a courage we all secretly know we would find if our loved ones were in danger. Harmony has a mother who scolds her, and whom she tries to please. She has cases that break her heart and she has clients that infuriate her. She is plain. Harmony is as real as I can make her and as far away from my first perfect attempts as I can get. Ok, perhaps not, in the end she DOES get the love interest…I guess that is one thing I just can’t get rid of because I did it too.
Anyway, today is an admonishment for all of us to let go of perfection and just be ourselves. Put those pictures that are fun but not perfect on the web…talk about being broken hearted and sad…be up front about your joys and accomplishments…share your history, good and bad, and above all grow. Just be sure to take your writing with you when you do.