Have you ever encountered a character like this while reading fiction?
Melinda is a founding-partner at a local law firm handing work that she loves: environmental law. She only has to work part-time, and because of this, she has freedom to spend time with her two healthy, well-adjusted children, one boy and one girl. She is happily married to her college sweetheart, a handsome, investment banker with washboard abs, a perfect smile and who worships Melinda and the kids. He never works over 40 hours a week and doesn’t miss a single concert or soccer game. He romances her with exotic vacations and weekends away, and the sex with him is dynamic and fulfilling. They have more than enough money to meet their every need and have over one million dollars in the bank for a rainy day.
She is 5’8″ with big blue eyes, flawless skin and glossy brown shoulder-length hair. She is a fit size 4 who can eat whatever she wants and never gains any weight. She has many interesting friends and has an active social life with many interests and hobbies which she pursues at her leisure. She is well loved and respected for her environmental work, and even won a coveted “Mom of the Year” award in her town. She lives in her dream home which she designed and furnished and feels completely at peace in it.
I bet you hate Melinda. You hate Melinda because she has the perfect life. She has no discernible flaws based on my short summary of her. She has everything she ever needs, has the perfect family, husband, and career. She has the perfect body, has enough money to meet any of her needs, and plenty of leisure time. How wonderful for her. And how boring for you. Melinda has nothing that you, as a reader, can connect to.
So why is Melinda so worthy of contempt? She has no fatal flaw. She is a character that has it all; looks, money, a happy family, etc. Who among us have everything we want? Perfect characters are boring. We can’t relate to them.
Each of us has flaws: we might need to lose 10 or 20 lbs, struggle with addiction, or have a parent or child that struggles with it. We experience unplanned pregnancies, contract diseases like cancer and diabetes, have affairs, get divorced, lose jobs, and hide secrets from the world. We all struggle with our flaws and imperfections in our lives, so our characters must struggle too. Your job as a writer is to create an interesting, flawed character, and then make that character’s life absolutely miserable.
So let’s change a few details about Melinda’s life. Maybe instead of having a part-time job that she loves practicing environmental law, maybe her job is a full-time position at a law firm specializing in divorce. She brings in a lot of business, but is repeatedly passed over for partnership at the firm, because the partners are sexist pigs who know that promoting her will give them less control of her and make them have to work harder. Meanwhile her husband, the investment banker, has been away on business a lot the last several months, and even when he is home, still works 60 to 80 hours a week, leaving Melinda to handle the bulk of the childcare and household management. Her son has recently been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder that requires intensive therapy for him to ever have a chance at living a normal life. To deal with the stress, and to lose the last 30 pounds of stubborn weight gain from her last pregnancy, she started working with a buff personal trainer who is 10 years younger, and the sexual tension between them is building and she is tempted…
Which Melinda is more interesting to you?