To be human is to be vulnerable. Even in a book that is considered an escapist “Beach Read,” your hero and heroine should not–indeed, they cannot–be perfect. They ought to have human foibles. You know, those likable failings and flaws.
Remember Mary Sue? It’s a kind of story in which the novelist lives out wish fulfillment through her too-perfect heroine. Yeah, don’t be that writer. It’s embarrassing.
But you don’t need to turn your lead into a soap opera sinner either. He doesn’t have to be an addict or ex-con, and she doesn’t need to be a victim of horrific abuse or a scheming control freak. Just ordinary human failings, placed in an extraordinary story setting, will do the trick.
People have a way of messing up almost anything, right? Give a character your own less-than-ideal reactions–denial, sloppiness, laughter at the wrong moment–and watch what happens. Add in the failings of friends and coworkers, and you’ll have a smorgasbord of faults from which to choose.
Be mindful about embarrassing the reader, though. A small degree of wincing (“Oh, man, my cousin is just like that!”) is fine. But if your hero is too much the jerk, he risks becoming an annoying stereotype. Your reader could close the book and walk away. Can’t have that!
Let’s take a look at Mr. Darcy’s inner self. Here he is, in all his snarking glory, grumbling about Mr. Collins in Chapter 1 of Darcy By Any Other Name. Just because we agree with everything he thinks doesn’t make him any less human. In fact, this humanity makes the man rather more likable.
Mr. Collins paused to draw breath and displayed a fine set of teeth. Had he come to the end of his speech? Darcy hoped so.
But no, Mr. Collins had more to say, and his plump fingers became busy in a hand-washing motion that Darcy found repellent. “And in such a capacity,” said Mr. Collins, “I must set social niceties aside and take it upon myself—for indeed, it is my solemn duty as a clergyman—to convey to you the tidings that, as of Monday last, your aunt was in excellent health.”
Mr. Collins paused and smiled expectantly. Darcy said nothing.
The silence, which Darcy meant to become awkward, was quickly filled. “Lady Catherine, as you know,” said Mr. Collins, “is a most distinguished and worthy patroness, and I am humbled and gratified by her notice. And I am most honored to make myself known to you, her distinguished nephew. Such an august lineage is yours, and such a distinction is mine, to serve—”
There followed more praise of his aunt. Darcy endeavored to stem the flow with a quelling look, but it was no use. Mr. Collins would talk, tossing out compliments with abandon.
At last there came an opening. “My venerable aunt,” said Darcy crushingly, “is known for her powers of discernment. I am certain she could never bestow a favor unworthily.”
This was the wrong reply to a simpleton like Collins. He responded with delight, not chagrin, and resumed talking. At last, with a gesture and another bow, Mr. Collins dropped a useful bit of information. Apparently he was related to the Bennets of Longbourn.
Didn’t this cap all! As if Miss Elizabeth’s mother and boisterous younger sisters were not enough, she must have this noxious cousin!
Darcy’s lips curled into a sneer. After the slightest of bows to Collins, he turned away. Mr. Collins went immediately to Elizabeth’s side, apparently to share his triumph, but Darcy did not wait to see her response. He had had quite enough of her family.
In fact, he’d had quite enough of Netherfield Park. Why in heaven’s name had he convinced Bingley to take this estate? Anything—a cow herder’s stone cottage shared with the cow! —would be preferable!
But no, when considering a property one took into account nothing of true importance. The size of the rooms, the condition of the park, the number of bedchambers, the state of the drains—what were these? What one ought to do, Darcy now realized, was examine the neighbors! Line them up, spend thirty minutes exposed to their chatter and flattery and hapless conversation, and then run like Hades in the opposite direction!
Tomorrow we’ll have W for Worthy Opponents. You know, the sparring thing? We loves that.
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