On writing

One dimensional characters: A perfect hero should never be perfect

I am half-way through another book where characters are one-dimensionally good or evil.

Over dinner with Sherylyn—my writing partner —I spent half the night talking about it. I think I was just disappointed with the way the characters were turning out. (I know, I need a life.)

Sherylyn, who’d already read the story, said, “It was a first book. Besides, how can we talk? Look at Potion. You can’t get anyone more pure good than Alun, can you?”

She stopped me cold. There is a special place on our bookshelf for first books. They’re what we call ‘dream books’. They’re usually first novels.

When you look back on an established author’s writing, you can often pick their first book just by the content and style, long before you look at dates and publication history. They’re fairy tales, pure and simple. Anne McCaffrey’s Restoree is a good example.

Good things happen to the people, seldom bad. And the characters are often nauseatingly perfect. If they’re good at something, they’re really good.

Now, to Potion.

Potion is a classic fantasy journey story. An enchanter and a fighter take work as bodyguards for for a man—Alun— who travels to a hostile land to rescue his aunt. In our story, Alun is pretty good. The fairest of the fair folk, the best enchanter—you name it, he’s got it, ad-nauseum. He is not the protagonist, but the whole book revolves around him. He’s the catalyst for everything that happens, and continues to be the catalyst for change throughout the book.

Our protagonists—the two bodyguards—are no slouches either. One is a powerful enchanter in her own right (not the most powerful, of course, because that is Alun) , the other is a legendary swordsman who was coaxed out of retirement for the job.

Alun is so pure he’s almost a caricature.

We know that. We believe that because he’s not the protagonist we can get away with it.

But Tegan and Blade are no slouches either. And this is where the problem lies.

They’re downright good at what they do—magicking and fighting —not to mention they’re ‘good’ people too. They don’t do ‘bad’ things.

So here am I, complaining about a set of characters being one-dimensional, when my own appear to be exactly the same.

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