Cookie Cutter Characters

on March 9, 2006

I’ve often said “Character is story” . . . don’t exactly remember who first said it, might have been Robert McKee. Robert Newton Peck said “Fiction Is Folks” and really, you don’t have to read his book of that title because that’s exactly what the book’s about. People. People make the story. People drive the story. People are the story.

Things happen, but it’s how those characters act and react to the situation they’re in that makes us turn pages. The biggest and bestest plot might be enjoyable on the surface, but without characters it’s meaningless.

My biggest pet peeve is stereotypical characters. The evil villain. The damsel in distress. The tortured hero. Please. No villain is pure evil. There’s a REASON for his actions. We might not like the reasons, we may be repulsed by the actions, but unless you’re dealing with a demon from hell, your villain has a backstory. (And, if you’re going to write a really good demon, he’d better have an interesting backstory too!)

Damsels in distress. The “oh, woe is me, I need someone to save me” just doesn’t float my boat. While I have no problem with the hero coming in and riding to the rescue, I want my heroine to at least TRY to be brave and strong and fight the bad guy.

An off-shoot of the damsels are “too-stupid-to-live” heroines. Women who think they’re being brave by going into a dark house with no weapon even when they suspect that the bad guy is lurking somewhere nearby . . . if she doesn’t have a damn good motivation for doing something so blatantly STUPID, I scream. Or the heroine who is attracted to a guy who she thinks killed her best friend. Please! If I think someone is a killer, the first thing I think is NOT “I want to jump his bones.” Maybe “I want to break his bones . . . ”

If I get a tortured hero–and I’ll admit, I like tortured characters–don’t give me what I expect. If the hero (or heroine) is tortured because of something that happened in the past, give them the strength to overcome it. Deal with it. Yeah, it can be an issue, but not THE issue.

Oh, and one more thing that drives me batty . . . in romantic suspense, please, please, please don’t take a breather and put the characters in bed when the bad guy is lurking around with a knife and the hero and/or heroine KNOWS that the bad guy is out there and they are in jeopardy, or someone else is in jeopardy. Yes, it’s hard. I know. I’ve written sex scenes that I deleted because my hero and heroine knew better than to get into bed when they had work to do.

Okay, there. My pet peeves. What are yours?