Role Models? My Characters? Not so much.

It sat there, staring at me. It was…a challenge, etched within a lousy review of my book. “And what is it with that Lola girl?” it said in letters made bigger and bolder by my irritated brain.  “She’s not a role model at all.

And I thought….a role model? My characters? Why do you want them to be role models? They’re characters in a STORY.

I stayed disgruntled for maybe an hour, my feathers ruffled completely. But then I remembered something. Something important.

That Lola girl? The battered, beaten, downtrodden third narrator of my zombie series? She was never meant to be a role model. Like at all. Because that Lola girl? She’s actually a cautionary tale.

See, Lola came about because I had this vision of a girl surviving the zombie apocalypse not because of her own wits, or even her own dumb luck, but simply because someone else made the choice for her. A mean someone. A someone who hurt people, but tried to protect his sister, his baby. His punching bag. I pictured a girl, small and skinny, from a poverty-stricken background, who doesn’t know how to take care of herself at all.  Who has no idea that people can be kind, that some can be trusted. Who winds up on the wrong side of good vs. evil after zombies have decimated our entire country, and who doesn’t even realize it.

I pictured a girl whose self-esteem has been so shattered by years and years of systemic abuse, she has no idea there’s better people out there. Nicer people. Non-violent people. And when she meets them, she has no idea how to be around them.

Becoming Lola is the last thing I’d ever want to do. I faced a scary dude once, a boy who I think would have hit me if I’d let him come to my house on a particular summer day, and it still haunts me. The what-if of it all. What if I’d let him come? What if I’d let him hit me? What if that became my life?

And seriously, haven’t we all been in bad relationships? Where we think it’s the best we’re going to get, the best we deserve? Where we look in the mirror and see something ugly staring back at us? Something we never wanted to become?

It happens, and it’s life, and I wrote Lola to reflect that side of things. She is not a role model, at least not in the first book of the series.

Writing Lola was hard. It’s hard to write someone you don’t admire, not even a little bit. For whom redemption seems, at times, impossible. But look at the world around us. It’s full of good people, sure, but it’s also full of sad ones. Beaten ones. Downtrodden ones. Real ones.

I feel like our responsibility as writers is to not shy away from characters such as Lola, to tell their stories, even if they’re hard to tell.  I don’t want to spend my time writing only happy tales with happy characters who always triumph.

That’s not how life is.  Some of the books I’ve most enjoyed in the past year have extremely flawed characters.  Miriam Black in Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds and Mockingbird is a disaster of a human being. She steals to survive, lives in seedy hotels and on the street, and when push comes to shove, she runs away…at first. Cat in Cassandra Rose Clare’s The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is selfish and self-centered. She uses people to get what she wants in life.

MadScientistsDaughter-144dpi (1) blackbirds

These women aren’t role models…but they are great, strong, dynamic characters.

So no. Of course Lola is not a role model. It’s not my job to write role models. It’s my job to write stories with characters that reflect reality, not a perfect world with perfect people. 

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5 thoughts on “Role Models? My Characters? Not so much.

  1. Team you! That reviewer is bonkers. Books (and TV, and movies) would be boring if everyone was a perfect role model, and there shouldn’t be an expectation that every character should be one.

  2. I’m left perplexed when a reviewer analyzes my characters in a way that was never intended for them. That said, I don’t get why that was their gripe with the character. This is fiction, and bad characters are abundant in fiction. I actually find myself admiring bad characters more because I know how difficult it is to write them! Good on you for not letting it bother you too much. 🙂

  3. I do remember you telling me about the genesis of Lola. Unsympathetic characters can sometimes teach us more than the sympathetic, always-do-the-right-thing ones. They’re my personal favorites (and now, of course, I MUST read TMSD and Wendig’s books, all of which have been on my TBR forever). I think in YA it’s especially easy to come under fire because young readers think they’re “supposed to” (whatever that means) act and think like the main characters in their books and movies.

  4. Leah Rhyne

    Thanks, ladies!! I have to agree – I prefer weird/warped characters myself! So that’s why I write ’em! Hahahah 😀

  5. I love this.

    My characters are sometimes role models — but sometimes they start out that way and then turn into someone you would NOT want to be. I like taking them on a journey.

    Great post!

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