This week’s video warns against the pitfalls of bragging on your characters.
Video Transcription: Just like good parents, writers are often so certain their stories and characters are the cutest little thing that ever breathed. We may not carry pictures around in our wallets or brag when our baby takes his first steps before the neighbor’s kid does. But we still want everyone to understand how brilliant/brave/beautiful—you fill in the blank—our characters are. So we make sure to tell our readers, at every opportunity, just our marvelous our characters are. You know the drill: The character pauses to admire his gorgeousness in a mirror or, as in a historical mystery I just finished, is congratulated for his brilliance or bravery by another character. In this particular book, the secondary character croons that the protagonist has “a way of cutting to what’s true, an’ making sense of it.”
The problem with such a declaration is two-sided. On the one hand, if you’ve managed to create a character that has, indeed, done something extraordinary, the reader has already seen the character’s actions. If the reader already knows how wonderful the character is, he hardly needs to be told—and, in fact, harping on the character’s brilliance, even if it’s true, can alienate readers because it skews the balance of strengths and weaknesses.
The other pitfall of this technique is that, as in the book I read, the character really hasn’t done anything worth bragging on. As a result, when the author starts patting her “brilliant” character on the back, the reader is likely to scoff in disbelief and reject the book and the character alike as unrealistic and perhaps even just plain irritating. The best way to handle your character’s strengths is to let them speak for themselves. If he really is brilliant, brave, or beautiful, your reader should be able to grasp that through the story itself.
Related Posts: Describing Characters
It’s What Your Characters Do That Defines Them
Character Competition: The Saint or the Sinner?
Story by K.M. Weiland