When I write fiction, my characters tend to be messed up. Truth be told, that’s how I prefer it. Characters that represent only the most idealized of ideals make me wanna holler! I want someone I can relate to, someone I can cheer for when they overcome obstacles, someone I love to hate.
Flawed characters permeate the literary landscape, but what about the opposite? As far as the Young Adult world goes, the characters that most embody unrealistic perfection for me are Francine Pascal’s icons of All-American Virgitude, Sweet Valley High’s Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield.
Don’t get me wrong, I religiously devoured those books and am ragingly jealous in awe of Pascal’s sun-kissed empire, but her depictions of the Twins Wakefield bordered on the incredulous: Five feet six inches tall, shoulder-length blonde hair, blue-green eyes, “perfect” size six figures (which has since changed to size four for today’s target audience), effortlessly Mensa-smart, super charming with amazing parents and a sensitive, hottie brother. Blah blah blah, bore bore bore. Even when their “flaws” are revealed, they are more along the lines of being too nice and beautiful to live.
As a reader, I willingly suspended my disbelief for the sake of soapy goodness but rarely identified with the twins’ existence. The series annoyingly pushes the really compelling stuff–drug abuse, premarital sex, family strife–through a revolving door of throwaway characters, but that’s where I saw myself: with the misfits, outcasts and poor little rich girls.
Let’s face it, anyone who tells you the world’s black and white is conducting the crazy train. We live in a confusing conflagration of messy, muddled gray. Because the path isn’t Yellow-Brick-Road defined, we encounter challenges, make poor choices (sometimes repeatedly), are influenced by the wrong people and cause what feels like irreparable harm to ourselves.
Sometimes we come out on the other side, whole healthy and happy, and sometimes we don’t. But the journey is what makes us legendary and I’ll gladly hitch myself to any character who painfully endures so that I may learn a lesson or two.