Last week, I dropped a confession on you guys, and admittedly you took it pretty well. I know I said I secretly rooted for villains, and while that’s true, that doesn’t mean I don’t adore our main characters with similar gusto. I just tend to like darker characters… you know because I’m evil and all. But even I have to admit there are some main characters that are just so kick ass that I can’t possibly want them to lose. Like Katniss from The Hunger Games – like I even need to say which book she’s from. Or Cole from Gena Showalter’s Alice in Zombieland – lame title, phenomenal book!
Main characters, while easy to make likable, are not always easy to make epic. Sometimes I find that our dashing protagonist is too perfect. They lack a sense of humanity, with clear cut faults that they need to overcome. They feel almost alien. And in YA, we have additional issues with main characters that authors need to remember: making them believable. One common reason that Krystal and I reject queries that come in has to do with the main characters feeling much older than they are. As you’re reading, it’s like you can tell an older person wrote the book because they are not acting like teens.
Now there are always exceptions to the rules. In dystopian books where children are forced to grow up at an early age, like Vee in The Surrendered, advanced maturity is expected. Case Maynard does a wonderful job in making her characters realistic and appropriate to the setting. Plus, Vee kicks ass, which also leads to her epicness.
However, in some modern YA, characters feel almost wrong. For example, if you have a book where a child or teen is in a leadership position, you must have a setting that calls for it. People read YA because they like the draw of teen angst and love, how they react purely on instinct without the adult experience to temper their emotions. Aging characters to the mindset of a thirty-year-old trapped in a teen body is… awkward at best.So, what makes a character epic? Many different characteristics qualify, but some of the common themes that appeal to me are:
· Flaws. Everyone sucks a little, so embrace the suck.
· When they have appropriate personalities. For example, reading about a super-mature teen who owns a multi-billion-dollar business who lives in a small town in the middle of nowhere and has an alcoholic best friend who grows pot just doesn’t make sense. I mean, if you know a book that has that type of main character and works… I definitely need to read it.
· Suffering. Now, before your tar and feather me, let me explain. I like when characters have to work for it. When they get handed victories without breaking a sweat or question their morals, it just doesn’t seem all that impressive. It’s like kudos you crossed the street vs awesome you crossed the Atlantic ocean without a boat while dodging hurricane waves and starving great whites! I think the latter makes a bigger impact, yes?
· When they have an awesome foe. Seriously, if my last post about loving villains didn’t sum this up, I don’t know what can. If there is a lame villain, the main character feels lame.
· And finally, I am a stickler for character development. If the character at the end is the same as they were at the beginning, I have an issue with that. How can someone go through that entire book and not change? I mean, I drink a coffee that’s not what I ordered and it’s so traumatizing that I am a completely different person afterward. Usually angrier. And grumpier. Not an ideal transformation… they need to grow!
So while there are many many things that make characters epic, these are some of the common things that appeal to me.