Blog me MAYbe — Wednesday — May I ask something about you?
What sort of character development do you hate?
Or perhaps, the character development, when done really terribly, that makes you cringe, and you can’t decide if you’re entertained by the suck happening on the page or just really, really horrified. I recognize that most characters, even those semi-cliched ones, can be done really well. Interesting, unique elements can be combined with more common ones to make a new story, and a great one at that. But sometimes, that doesn’t happen and you’re left with a reading experience that just grates your nerves in ways it might not others.
Last night I began reading 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James because I borrowed it from a friend. I originally had no intention whatsoever of reading this book, but then I found the 50 Shades of Suck tumblr. I am so amused by that commentary-on-suck that I kind of thought I’d be more amused than bashing-my-brains-out. Instead, I haven’t found a single redeeming quality, and I’ll probably skim along until the first “mature audiences” scene
to get a full scope of the book because why else would I read this? and then give up for good.
The thing, though, that irks more than all of the other things in 50 Shades of Grey (and I find everything irksome) is the character-development so far (I’m 54 pages in). It’s maybe the #1 thing to annoy me, and thus today’s BMM question. Here it is:
Ana Steele is plain Jane boring, with all these flaws (she’s clumsy! she has poor taste is clothes! she cannot tame her hair!), and obviously this is why mega-hot-super-rich Christian Grey won’t go out with her; but of course, Jose and Paul, the ONLY OTHER MEN in the novel and consequently her good friends, they’re in love with her, and they always ask her out, but she always says no; but why oh why can’t she find a boyfriend! why must she be so plain and boring and awful that no men like her? (Seriously, she asks that pages after talking about how Jose really, really likes her.)
The central struggle in the first 4 chapters is that Ana is… unattractive and boring? and woe is her! I don’t know. Fifty pages in, the plot is driven by this character development.
Of course, this is a character arc I’ve seen plenty of times in fiction — in both young adult and adult fiction, and in all genres. I’ve seen both male and female characters suffering from this debilitating self-awareness of how not-perfect they are. And I think it’s even completely OK for characters to have a debilitating self-awareness of imperfection because of course real people do, too! My problem is when it’s done so garishly that it actually insults real people who are insecure — it’s like I can hear the author saying, “Oh, I know, if I make her exceptionally un-perfect, then everyone will either connect with her or pity her.”
To me, that’s just insulting. To everyone involved — readers and characters. There are really good ways to make this sort of character-driven beginning strong and important, and real and fleshed out; there are interesting ways to develop insecurity and flaws and strengths into an influential character — and when done well, this is my favorite sort of character to read about. But when an author gives me the flat-lined version, I can’t ever seem to forgive them for it. Perhaps because I love the well-done stories so incredibly much.
So now I really want to know your thoughts — what character development really just drives you nuts? It can be small things, or large things, or you can give examples (I obviously called out E.L. James here) but do so constructively. Please leave your answer below & let’s get the discussion started!
Also today I posted for Blog Me MAYbe on NA Alley — Do you use any books of writing craft? Please check it out & join the great discussion going on there. So many great recommendations!