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Characters Behaving Badly (Guest Post)

This content was originally posted on as part of the Shudder Blog Tour in 2013.

Sometimes… characters just won’t do what you want them to do. I guess this is the problem with a well-developed character – she is no longer an object under your control, she’s a living, breathing person with motivations and thoughts and feelings all her own. And sometimes, even when she’s supposed to be the big, tough heroine of your story, she just doesn’t want to be. And we – as the readers – just have to deal with it.

I know, I know. I’m the author – I’m supposed to make my characters do what I and the readers want them to do. But unfortunately, that’s just not the way the world works. Wouldn’t we all love it if everyone did what we wanted them to do? I certainly would. But to be true to my characters, sometimes I have to let them dictate where the story goes, even if makes my readers boil over with frustration.

I ran into this problem in Shudder. There’s a point in the story where the main character, Alessa, has come *thisclose* to achieving everything she set out to do, and she just freaks out. She can’t go through with it. The fact of the matter is, she’s scared – and understandably so – and much to the chagrin of everyone rooting for her from outside the pages of the book, she hatches a plan to pack up her bags and run.

My beta readers, needless to say, were not happy. “Why did you make Alessa flip out like this?” “What is she so scared of?” “You really shouldn’t make her try to run away, it’s really annoying at such an exciting time in story.” I heard endless litanies of this from my beta readers, and sure enough, I’m now seeing the same sentiments crop up in many reviews. I’m sorry everyone! I would love for Alessa to just suck it up and be awesome and brave and fierce 100% of the time. But that’s simply not who she is. Sure, she puts on a brave face, and she always does what needs to be done (eventually), but that doesn’t mean she’s happy about it. She’s not invulnerable, after all. She’s human. And she’s afraid – with good reason.

In the end, I just couldn’t cut this part of the story while respecting Alessa’s character, even though I knew how much it would piss some readers off. We all love a perfect hero. We want her to have endless reserves of strength and courage and tenacity and passion, and we want her to always act with integrity. This is what we want from everyone we care about – how much easier would the world be if we could all count on the people we look up to always do the right thing? How much easier would things be if we could always count on ourselves to do the right thing? But in reality, this just doesn’t happen – people are flawed. That’s what makes them people.

So Alessa struggles with the responsibilities that are laid out before her. She never asked to be a hero. But as Isaac reassures her in her moment of crisis, “Sometimes we don’t get to choose our path. Sometimes we just have to do something because we’re the only ones who can.” And Alessa can do it. She just needs to muster up the courage to try.

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