Perfect Characters as Default: Why this is problematic

Once Upon A Time pencilThe number of pitches, synopses or opening lines I’ve seen like this is outstanding:

[Your character’s] life was simple, quiet and perfect…until it wasn’t.

I’m being dramatic, but perfection as a default is firstly boring, and secondly I want to know where the humanity is, not the godliness.

Think about these tips instead:

  • I assume that we’re meeting your character at an interesting time in their life (or why else would you be starting the book here?): so get to telling us about it! Cut your opening line about perfection and ask yourself the tough questions: what is it the deep-rooted source of conflict for your troubled character.
  • Instead of your character being perfect (because no one is!) tell me about their background in struggle. For example: what made them blind to asking questions about their life or blind to the conflict that’s about to come in the next 80k words? What makes THIS moment the moment when things changed?
  • Just like people, we can’t assume characters had no life before we meet them. Your characters should feel so rich that they had lives before we start to read about them on the page.
  • If you think your character’s life was perfect before the (real or metaphorical) asteroid hit their world then I don’t believe you’re thinking deeply enough about their backstory.
  • Challenge yourself to think about your characters as living before and after the book is done. If you need help, use this blog post: 30 Questions to Ask Your Main Character. Or this funny one.
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