Characters, role models or pure fantasy?

As a writer, my main purpose is to tell a story. Hopefully an entertaining story. But is it my job to make sure my characters are role models? Some would say yes and others would just shrug. I wrote a young adult series, wherein the three main characters are teens with extraordinary, magical abilities.

My main character, and narrator, is a young, teenage girl named Shay. Shay gets good grades, she has a couple of honors classes (not math and science, bleh), she’s an Earth Elemental who can act as an anchor for her elemental friends, and is a particularly strong empath (she can literally feel what others are feeling). Because of that last power, she’s not super interested in dating because teenage relationships are tumultuous enough.

On the other side of the coin, Shay also ditches school occasionally. She lies to her parents and sneaks out in the middle of the night. Shay is stubborn and sometimes hard-headed. In short, Shay has flaws, like any real person does.

Because of all of that, I have heard many mixed reactions from readers. Some love her; they love that she’s not a lovesick, “too-stupid-to-live” girl who is only concerned with boys. (Yes, that quote came direct from a review, a review that I loved.) Others call her a “goody-goody,” or a “know-it-all,” or even just bossy. Some complain that she’s too mature for a high school girl. Some complain that she’s too hard on the love interest and don’t care about her reasons for being so.

So, should a teenage girl be perfect? Should she lack any and all flaws? Or should she be entirely flawed? The answer is: your character should be who they are supposed to be.

You’re never going to please every reader – it is an impossible goal.

When I first sat down to write the Elemental Series, I fully intended to write Shay as a girl who reflected my teenage friends and even me. My female friends and I worried about our grades, because if we got bad grades, we got punished. My friends and I did extracurricular actives, because we planned on applying to colleges. My friends and I dated boys, but relationships weren’t the be-all end-all of our lives. Often, after a particularly bad breakup, we would refrain from dating anyone for long periods of time. But my friends and I suffered from flaws as well. We ditched school occasionally. We went places that weren’t where our parents expected us to be. We were stubborn and jealous and spiteful on occasion. We were teenagers. We were human. We tried to be good people but we made mistakes. My characters make mistakes.

So, should characters be role models? Maybe. If you think characters should show people that it’s okay not to be perfect. Or if you think it’s okay for characters to strive to be good.

I think it is more important to write an entertaining story with characters that feel like real people and if not every single person loves your characters, then I think you’ve succeeded because not every person in the world likes every other person in the world.

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6 thoughts on “Characters, role models or pure fantasy?

  1. Agreed! I think characters have to be themselves; that is, they need to behave in a way that reflects their upbringing, their worldview, and the society they grew up in. This doesn’t just apply to being “good,” either; if a character is going to rebel against the system, she should have a reason for it in her background– it can’t just happen because that’s the catalyst the story needs. If these teenage girls live in our world, of course they’re going to act like normal teenagers. To a point, that’s what they are.

    I love how balanced the complaints are in your reviews. I think that probably means you’re doing a good job with her. A smart girl who knows there’s more to life than boys? Yes, please!

    1. Shauna Granger

      Yes, I’m glad the complaints are more balanced; they’re the kind of complaints that might get another reader to check it out. After all, one person’s complaint might be another person’s preference.

  2. Love that Shay is so much more well-rounded than some other characters (*whispers* Bella Swan). 😀 I really LOVE flawed heroes, even heroes that edge on unsympathetic or unlikable. Gillian Flynn’s heroines are so kick ass because they’re exactly the opposite of what you expect them to be. I think art can be made even if the character is not someone your reader would strive to be.

  3. I think characters can be good role models because of their flaws. Growing up I totally looked up to Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Lioness Quartet series, and she was definitely flawed, but she was also brave, and tried to do the right thing most of the time, and never gave up, all good qualities. The fact that she was flawed made her relatable.

    Your character sounds much more intriguing than a character who never breaks the rules or makes mistakes. 🙂

  4. Pingback: And Another Thing… | FanFiction Fridays

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