The main reason editors give for rejecting my work (when they give a reason) is that they didn’t fall in love with my characters as they had hoped. This puzzles me because I have never fallen in love with any character I have read. I’ve liked some, found some interesting, but love? No.
I know what makes good characters — their strengths, their vulnerabilities, their flaws — but are these the things that make us love them? All I know is that I don’t like characters that have purposely been given flaws; they seem contrived and clichéd, like the boozing cop or the mother who can’t communicate with her teen-ager. Such purposeful flaws remind me of the Persian flaw. Supposedly, the Persian carpet makers put a flaw in every carpet because only God can be perfect; what that says to me is that they thought they were so perfect that they had to try to be imperfect, but such arrogance in itself is a flaw so they weren’t perfect after all.
I always wondered about that flaw in the carpet. I think the flaw come first and the rationale second. Can’t you just see the carpet maker in his stall at the bazaar telling an aggressive haggler, “No, ma’am, I can’t bring the price down any further. A flaw? What flaw? Oh, that. It’s not a flaw, it was put there on purpose because . . . because . . .only God is perfect. Yes, that’s it.”
But I digress.
I do know that interesting characters make interesting stories, not the other way around. And how you make characters interesting is to make them come alive by giving them traits that are a bit more exaggerated than real life. Who wants to read about a character who sits around watching television all the time, or who repeatedly has the same tiresome argument with their child, or who can’t resolve their problems? We deal with that every day. We don’t need to read about it. On the other hand, if the traits are too idealized, characters come across as comic book silly.
So how do you create characters that readers will fall in love with? I don’t know. Sometimes while writing this blog I can figure out the answer to a question that’s troubling me, but not today. Sorry. I’ll let you know when I do figure it out.