Characters with contradictions

baby shaving I like to read a lot of transformation stories. Romance, coming of age, quests, all kinds of stories have characters that need to change so that they can be successful. I’ve been trying to work out why some of them crawl into my heart and make me love them despite their flaws, and some of them just annoy me.

 A typical example

Like out little guy in the picture, our character often has a view of who they are that is contrary to how they behave. I like the example of women in fiction who have to learn of one of two lessons. They need to change in order to get what/who they want. Or they need to realize they don’t have to change, just accept who they are.

It’s a source of conflict in many romances. The woman has to learn how to let go of the past and trust someone so they can love. Or, in other words, drop the baggage and pick up the guy.

How it works well

This is really tricky because at the beginning the character must be flawed to the extreme that something needs to change. In a lot of Lani Diane Rich’s books, characters need to heal some relationship with a parent in order to have a healthy relationship with someone else. Lani, gets us to understand how the relationship was broken and how the heroine isn’t aware that people can change enough to earn forgiveness for even the most horrible acts.

And then she has the heroine be blind to the impact of holding in the resentment. We get to like the heroine and then take her side against the offending parent – and then forgive or not along with her.

I recommend reading A little Ray of Sunshine for a great example. If you want more of Lani, she runs a great writing site and podcast with her husband over at Storywonk.com

How it works poorly

For me, the heroine needs to change at least a little bit early on. If there is no learning, there’s no interest. I find the Shopaholic stories fall into this category. Fairly shallow heroine, who can’t seem to grow beyond behavior.

Eat Pray Love was another example of the contradictions not working. I managed to read the book until she got to the Pray section and when she started crying and feeling sorry for herself AGAIN, I deleted the book. We were a third of the way through the story and she hadn’t learned anything. Argh!

One that makes me switch opinions

I’m reading Stephanie Bond’s Body Mover series and I find myself getting annoyed with the main character. For example, she’s in dire financial straits and she takes a taxi somewhere. She can’t pay her bills, but she can afford to drink martinis and smoke cigars. But just as I’m about to yell at her, she realizes what she’s doing and tries to get control. In each book Carlotta learns something more about herself.

My new novel

The main reason I’m blogging about this is that I’m writing a new book that has an underlying transformation story. I need my character to go from emotionally damaged and unreachable, to a point where she at least realizes that she needs to drop her baggage to be able to live a decent life.

I worry that my readers will lose patience with someone so closed off from her own feelings as they read the story.

So, readers, the question for today – what are the things that make you want to throw your book across the room because the character is not learning?