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.