One of the characters in my current project (not the hero or heroine, in case you’re wondering) is a smoker. This book is set about 30-ish years in the future on Earth, so I’m imagining a time when smoking is looked down upon even more than it is now. I’m also realizing that like so many people in real life, I have characters who use smoking as a crutch or at least an excuse to get out of talking to people for a little while. If you’ve read Celestial Chaos, you may remember that Andrew had quit smoking six months prior to his trip to the Kurran Empire/The Commons, and still had periodic nic fits.
I quit smoking five years ago this month, and if you’re wondering if I’ve ever fallen off the wagon, let me answer that: yes. Yes I have, during my vacation to the UK in 2012. It unfortunately happens and I stopped again when I got home. At this stage, I don’t even miss it (much).
(I’d been thinking about quitting for a little while when I had a cancer scare at the ripe old age of 25. It terrified the bejeezus out of me, and I quit the following week. It sucked. I wouldn’t wish that miserable experience on my worst enemy. For my last two years as a smoker (out of six or seven), my diet had pretty much consisted of cigarettes, coffee, and canned mandarin oranges, keeping me fashionably skinny but leaving me smelling like an ashtray, my skin looking a little desiccated, and my nerves constantly on edge.)
Which brings me to my point: I need characters who are flawed, who don’t fit neatly into categories, and it’s so easy to fall back into that habit of writing a stock character. I’m tired of heroines whose worst habit is nail-biting, or whose least-attractive feature is hair that frizzes in the humidity. I’m not talking about the Mary Sues of the world—although they still exist—but the characters who are maybe one or two steps below a Mary Sue, who aside from the nail-biting are essentially perfect, whose stories are still being published. The second-tier Mary Sue character is one of the reasons I started writing romance: I got so sick of reading about these near-flawless people. I want to read about the good sides of characters, of course; those good qualities are the reasons people fall in love.
I read The Rosie Project earlier this year and loved it, no doubt in part due to the very plain, stark characterizations of Don and Rosie. Their behaviour is sometimes cringe-worthy, but it’s cringe-worthy because it feels real. This is how humans interact with each other—we have fits of temper. We’re obnoxious. We have weird rituals and inflict them on other people (and I know the novel implies that Don sits somewhere on the autism spectrum and he’s well aware of how he comes across to other people—it can still be painful to read). We have bad habits and aren’t crazy about breaking them, because those bad habits work for us.
I want fleshed-out characters. I want to read about them at their best and worst.
Oh, and authors who write about heroines with hair that frizzes a little? Coming from a curly-haired woman, it never frizzes just in the humidity. It frizzes whenever it wants. Trust me on this.