“You pick your friends, not your family.” That phrase is usually spoken after one of our siblings does something like wear your favorite shirt and then spill red wine on it. It’s meant to say, “Hey, that’s your sister…so go on and make nice.” But when authors pursue “niceness” the result may sometimes be…dare I say it…boring. Is nice the ultimate four letter word?
I’ll go out on a limb and declare that characters who are always nice should be avoided, just like four letter words in every day speech. Author Drew Chial makes an excellent argument for why your characters don’t have to be likable:
“Your character doesn’t need to be someone the audience wants to have a beer with. They’re not running for president. You don’t need to file down their jagged edges. Well developed characters are just as likable as characters that are just like us. It’s more important for your hero to feel like a human being than a delegate for all of humanity.”
In other words, we all have moments when something really grinds our gears. As adults, we’re taught not to over-react. Even Kindergarteners are told to play nicely. But this is the beauty of being an author. Your character can go bat-shit crazy and that would make fantastic reading. However, there are rules.
Your character’s actions and reactions should be in keeping with the plot. There should be character development along the way. Their actions should speak to their moral compass. And lastly, they should show change from how they started. This can be in the form of them becoming nice or conversely, developing a bit more of a backbone.
The movie “The Truman Show” illustrated an idyllic town where everyone was nice and helpful toward their neighbors. But it wasn’t real. The same would be true if every one of your characters was squeaky clean nice. You may wish to have that person as your best friend, but if they really were your best friend, chances are that once in awhile you’d see another side to them.