Difficult Characters

by Autumn Birt

What do you do with an non-traditional hero?

Well, at least she came prepared with a guide!

Well, at least she came prepared with a guide!

I don’t mean a villain who progresses to become a hero, or even the ‘good guy’ who has lapses of less than stellar character. No, I mean someone who really tries to be good but is sometimes so annoying you want to punch him. Or tell him to get a grip. Maybe just shake him until he fits into the mold he is destined for…if he’d just act rationally.

When I wrote Born of Water, Ty came to me with a strong personality. He was angry. He over reacted. He was, well, difficult.

I’m not sure I would have ventured into writing the first novel I would release with such a problematic character – if I’d thought it out. But I didn’t think about things like a reader’s ability to relate to a character or even publishing for that matter. Ty was simply part of the story line that developed and I never thought about changing him. I wanted to at times. But like a real life friend, I accepted him as he came, flaws and all. Terrible, annoying flaws…

There has been a slow upsurge of books with non-traditional heroes. In the group here at the Guild of Dreams, I can point to Scott Bury and his novel the Bones of the Earth. The main character, Javor, has been described as autistic. And it doesn’t take much of a Google search to find other indie books along the same lines.

I never thought of Ty as a character with issues beyond naivete (or maybe needing anger management lessons) until a reader pointed out he acted a little bi-polar. Yeah, he does. There are times Ty acts in ways the average, explainable, person would not.

I would describe him as ultra-sensitive. The daily annoyances that most of us absorb and ignore until they pop alive at 2 am for us to wrestle with in private, hit him with immediate force. Every incident rises to significance. If suppressed, problems rise like vengeful demons leaving black moods in their wake.

I need some of this in an "act rational" blend for Ty!

I need some of this in an “act rational” blend for Ty!

Ty is a little unexplainable. Which might not be an issue with an actual friend. I’ve known a few such men in my life (I think it is because I am such a strong woman that the, ahem, weaker sex gravitate to me like a lighthouse in a storm. Um…it sounds good anyway). After all, how much do any of us really know the deepest thoughts, dreams, and history of the person sitting next to us? Or our parents? Or lover? Life and people don’t make sense. But fiction is supposed to. Things happen for a reason, motives are constructed. Ty is a problem.

I’m not sure how to warn a reader that Ty is not going to react in the average way. He isn’t average. To make life (and reviews!) easier, I wouldn’t write him as he is in the novel. But there is no changing him now. Maybe in ten years, I’ll have an epiphany of how to write such a problematic character and how to clue in readers (or I’ll be wise enough not to go that direction in the first place!). For now, I’m just thinking of sending Ty for some counseling to get him through book 3!

How have you handled characters that refuse to behave? What books have you read with non-traditional heroes? Did you like them?

– Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy novel Born of Water, its Novel Companion, and, most recently, Rule of Fire, book 2 in her series of elemental magic. All are available at Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers of e-novels. Her next novel, Spirit of Life – book 3 in the series, will be available late 2013. You can also find her goofing off online on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page and on Goodreads.


8 comments on “Difficult Characters

    • It is nice to know he becomes a great hero, but I do think I’d have a hard time getting past that e ally in the book. But I suppose it depends on how it was set up. (I haven’t read that one, obviously.) There is a rape scene and some very squeamish thoughts in Storm Dancer by Rayne Hall, and those didn’t turn me off. It is part of the main character and the story, but not right at the beginning though!

  1. I tend to prefer non-traditional heroes. I suppose the main example (please don’t hit me) are Tolkien’s Hobbits, who are well-fed middle-aged men of unheroic proportions, whose main interests are good food, beer and pipe-weed.
    I suppose one of my favourite anti-heroes is the eponymous hero of ‘Morningstar’ by David Gemmell, who is downright unpleasant.
    I have to say that Thomas Covenant and the rape scene Brad Filippone refers to put me right off the Stephen R. Donaldson books.
    But I think you’re right – there is an upsurge, not just in anti-heroes, but in protagonists who are complex.

    • I like the idea that there is an upsurge in on-traditional heroes and more complex protagonists. It adds to the challenge of storytelling for sure! I haven’t read that book by David Gemmel. I’ll have to check it out!

      And, as I am approaching middle age despite being carded buying wine AGAIN, there is nothing wrong with older heroes that like good food, alcohol, and a smoke! Though I prefer my smoke to be emitted from fireplaces! 😉

  2. Thanks for the mention, Autumn! I knew that writing my autistic main character, Javor, would be difficult, and I knew it would be hard on one level for readers to identify with him. But I thought that Ty was one of the most realistic characters in Born of Water. Aggravating, sure. But what’s the point of writing a story that just follows the established patterns?

    Personally, I want to read about characters with flaws. Heroes are dull. I never really got into Superman as a kid, because he is just too powerful, and all the stories follow an established pattern. I think you’ll find that your stories will resonate with readers who want more than the usual Disney-Hollywood drivel if you remain true to your characters, your stories and yourself.

    • Too funny, I never got into Superman either. The perfect hero never appealed to me. I like a few dark flaws and I like purely ‘good’ characters that know how to be fun and funny (rather than boring and a know-it-all)!

      But the whole debate shows why it is important to write stories for yourself and that you like. Not everyone will like a story no matter who is the author. Write for yourself and love it.

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