Staying True to Our Characters

by Ashlynmathews on April 17, 2013

Romance readers have expectations. The majority of readers want a happily-ever-after or a happy-for-now resolution by the end of the book. I know I do. After all, I invested my time and emotions into these characters. I want a satisfying ending.

Yet, I realize the most memorable books were the ones that had me thinking, rationalizing, and questioning what I would have done in that character’s situation.

My editor attaches a disclaimer to the manuscripts she edits. Basically, take what sounds good and toss the rest. I have to admit the issue she brings up regarding my heroine’s action in Reclaimed is the same dilemma I had struggled with after I wrote the scene.

How can I get readers to relate to a heroine who commits an act of betrayal? How can this woman be a leader or a protector of mankind if she can commit this immoral act? Does committing a wrong for the sake of love make her betrayal right?

In the end, I realize I must be true to my heroine and validate her decision by keeping the plot and scene as is. She is guided in her choices by her young age, limited life experience and perspective. Love is new to her. Loyalty is ingrained in her. Yet those ideals are tested after two near death experiences. She makes her choice. To us, her choice is morally wrong.

But rather than making our stories black and white, isn’t life more interesting inside and outside the pages when the lines between right and wrong are various shades of gray? And why should I impose my moral beliefs on my characters? Shouldn’t that discussion be had by the readers? If I write stories to be what I believe is right or wrong, I’m essentially limiting my characters.

So let them be flawed, imperfect, immoral, immature or downright evil. As long as they learn or, accept and deal with the consequences, I’ll let them continue to steer me in my story telling. Certain reader expectations, such as a happily-ever-after or a happy-for-now, I can certainly meet. However, the means to the ends is fair game. Reclaimed will be released in two weeks.

 

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna Brentwood April 18, 2013 at 7:17 am

Dear Ashlyn,

I think you should always stay true to your characters and your gut. My character in “The Songbird With Sapphire Eyes” also lived a “real” life and as such, relfects that rather than the usual happy ending. Real life is a roller coaster and while we all like happy endings, every character and every book is different. I think the author that follows her heart usually conveys the passion behind the writing and most readers get that.

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Maggie Jaimeson April 18, 2013 at 10:12 am

I think you summed it up well: “So let them be flawed, imperfect, immoral, immature or downright evil. As long as they learn or, accept and deal with the consequences.”

The key to me is that the character experiences painful consequences for their actions and, one hopes, those consequences cause a change in the character arc. Real life calls for lots of difficult choices and, depending on what has happened in our past, we don’t always make a decision that is moral or mature. Most adults know someone who paid ultimate price for bad decisions (death). Personally, I think the novel is better for having realistic characters dealing with difficult decisions.

Personally, I always root for an HEA, because I believe that that most people are redeemable and I like to see that redemption. However, if it is done well, I will accept the lack of HEA if I believe it’s true to the character’s arc and makes an important point in the story. But I’m not sure I’m in the majority of readers.

Once your novel is completed, I think it is a matter of marketing to make sure reader expectations are set appropriately. If your novel is marketed simply as a romance, the expectation IS happily ever after. However, if it is women’s fiction, or any genre outside of romance (even if it has romantic elements) the HEA is not necessarily expected. But you need to set that expectation in your marketing or in preliminary reviews as much as possible. Though there will always be readers who get upset of an HEA doesn’t happen.

My romances do have HEAs, but the characters do make some questionable decisions along the way to get to that point. My YA Fantasy, under Maggie Faire, holds out the possibility of HEA by the end of the series. But the reader will have to trust me and hang on to get there. I hope they do.

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