Weak Characters by Nikki Rae
There is a lot of emphasis on character in writing, and no one knows that more than I. My favorite things about a book are the characters that dwell inside of it, bring it to life. In my own writing, I strive to make not just characters, but people—real and tangible, as if you would meet them at a coffee shop or run into them at the grocery store. These are people you grew up with, people you saw from afar and always wanted to know, your friends and enemies. You. Me.
I pride myself on the realism of my characters. I want you to feel their joy, their sadness, their pain. It is my goal that you think about them long after you close the book and go about your life. Mostly, the people who have read my books realize all the work I have put into them and they often say how they can relate to the characters and feel what they are going through. However, once in a while there is a complaint, which is only natural when you create art for a living—not everyone is going to like or understand what you do—and that’s okay. It makes us human and different from each other. This is why bad reviews tend to not bother me so much. As long as the reviewer keeps it to their opinion and doesn’t just bash me as a person, I take what they have to say into consideration and try to see where they’re coming from.
It was hard for me to see where someone was coming from when they pointed out that my characters are weak. At first, I found it hard to not take offense. I research my characters’ traits; I spend months sketching them out and bringing them to life before they are ever in a story. How can they possibly be weak when to me they are made of flesh?
But after thinking it over for a while, I think I can understand. In my first book, Sunshine, the main character is allergic to the sun and has major trust issues due to things that have happened in her past. She becomes physically ill when she is confronted with her demons. Another character, Ava (from my book Animal), has anxiety disorder and PTSD. She is taken captive and cannot physically fight her attacker, so she has to use her mind—the thing that is so against her most of the time—to escape. And then there is my newest book, The Donor, in which a desperate girl turns to something she never would otherwise in order to help her family.
These things are weak. I can admit that. But just because you are weak, doesn’t mean you can’t be strong. Don’t get me wrong, I love a strong female lead as much as the next person, but my characters do not wield swords or bend steel. Although I write in the paranormal genre, my characters are real people. They have flaws. They bleed and cry and regret things. Most of the time, they have a hard time looking in the mirror, getting out of bed, or leaving the house. They cannot be expected to shoot flames out of their eyes and save the world. They are busy saving themselves.
While I can see how this can be misconstrued as weak, I also think it is a very two dimensional way of thinking that causes this theory of “weak characters”. A weak character to me is someone who has no past, present, or future. They are just a vehicle to tell a story. While those types of books are fun reads, they are not what I write.
When I was younger, I watched TV shows and read books about heroes like Batman and Buffy, but I connected more to characters when they were vulnerable, when you saw the parts of them that contradicted their capes and special abilities. Many people cannot ever aspire to put on their underwear outside their tights and fight crime. Some have a hard time sleeping. Some have a difficult home life. Some find it hard to escape into things when they aren’t real to them. And then still, some have a completely normal, happy life and want more than the acrobatics.
Flaws are what make us human—what make us beautiful. My characters grow as you read, they leave stains on your hands when you turn the pages. I don’t spare a reader’s feelings when I write, which is also something I pride myself on. You cannot walk away from a book of mine without dirt under your fingernails. My characters stick to your teeth, get lodged in your throat.
They have no time to fight back with brute strength. Honestly, they have no interest in it. The mind is a dangerous place, but it is also a source of strength that is often overlooked in literature. My characters aren’t riding into battle with dragons, they are inching their ways to normal lives. While other characters in other stories are saving their kingdoms, mine are trying to rule their own destinies—to change things for themselves without changing who they are.
They can still solve the crime, figure out the dark secrets, and become a hero. It takes strength to do these things without the aid of magic, muscles, or money.