1. PlotDeviceManager

    PlotDeviceManager New Member

    Sep 24, 2012
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    How Hard Should I Bash Bella?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by PlotDeviceManager, Oct 2, 2012.

    Hello, my name is Sam.

    I am currently writing a novel with a female lead. My general question is this: what's the proper balance, sort of the golden ratio, on how hard you beat your characters to how "awesome" they're allowed to be?

    Maybe that sounds like gobbledy gook, so I'll explain. Let's call her Bella (not her real name).

    Bella reads. Bella reads ALL THE TIME. She reads while they walk, while they talk, while they eat. She reads while cooking, fishing, and basically when she can balance a book and whatever else. So I felt fine about her knowing a lot of things. But, she felt . . . too smart. So I made her slow. Her partner is rather quick, he's sharp as a tack, but has sort of a limited education. So, the regular stuff, he basically has to guide Bella through, like a parent with a slow child. She's not stupid. Just slow. Given enough time, she solves the BIG problems.

    Still felt to "Bella" if you know what I mean.

    So, I also made her anti-social. She hates people (except her partners of course). Her male partner does all the buying, the haggling, the job hunting. She reads and waits to get back on the road. But, Bella, despite her revulsion for crowds, manages to amass a lover, a mentor, two Kings, and a hateful ship captain to not only trust her, but call her a friend.

    Crap, I thought, the world just comes on a silver platter to this girl.

    So I made her ugly. Not, butt ugly, just very plain faced. Short. Fuzzy hair. A demon fell in love with her.


    So I made her a horrible fighter (in a place where they still carry swords and shields). In little less than seven years, you could make a Picasso out of the scars on her body. She even manages to get her eye ripped out by a troll. In the process, she manages to no only mantain the lover, but save a city from a troll horde and save a group of kids, thus thrusting her into the annuls of legend.

    At this point, I was starting to get annoyed. It's not that I was just handing her these things, either. Through writing her hundreds upon hundreds of torments and punishments, she has not only managed to hang on, but thrive.

    So, I decided to do something drastic. Bella manages to not only get herself killed, but her lover AND her mentor. Three problems in one stroke. Genius! Then, a friend of the lover brings them all back by selling the souls of three strangers and suddenly that was the crux and climax of the whole damn story.

    How far do I have to go before I should say, "No, no, this is the essence of a Mary Jane character, a real Bella." When should I stop tormenting her and just let the story die? Or should it die?
  2. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    NEVER use the term Mary Jane. It's original meaning is all but lost, and is now used in ways that make it entirely useless. Its current meaning could be summed up as, "I can't give a rational reason why, but I think your character sucks."

    Just make her a character. Don't manufacture flaws just to prevent perfection (if you could REALLY create a perfect character, why wouldn't you? So the "too perfect" character is "too perfect" in an inexpressible way). Make her relatable. Give her unique interests, and a distinctive voice. Don't be afraid to make her likeable. Making mistakes is not necessarily a flaw, because no one has perfect information.
  3. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Sep 24, 2009
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    Alabama, USA
    Hey Sam. I, too, have female leads in my stories.

    What I do for them is just let them develop over time.

    What's wrong with her being a competent fighter, let's say who has a few scars here and there, and lost an eye to a troll while saving a small village from a troll invasion? What's wrong with her wanting to read a lot? What's wrong with a demon falling in love with her? I actually wouldn't mind reading about this character.

    My fantasy character, Akeshia Valmorn is of nobility, is skilled with a sword, and is in a romantic relationship with another girl. She's a keen observer, tactician, and calculating. I allowed her to develop into that rather than trying to force a personality onto her. OK, yeah, she soon leads a revolution to free an enslaved race, etc., but I don't worry about that. If this is what she wants to do, I work out a logical procession that'll lead to her and her friends doing just that. I let her tell her own story. I let her be what she want to be. Sure, I'll pop in and go, "OK, really, Akeshia? Really??" but other than that, I leave her to her own devices.

    Let your female protagonist be what she wants. The fact that she seems to have endured and thrived through all the torments you've put her through speaks volumes. I may be misjudging her or your post, but to me, she is a strong girl who will not back down. You may give her so many scars it looks like she went through a blender, she may lose an eye to a troll, and she may face harrowing trials and a time or two come close to writing a check to the Grim Reaper himself...but she keeps going. She keeps fighting. And yet, she is into the regular mundane things that you and I like to do. Read, go for walks, hang out with friends, go on dates. She's able to find some time to be a normal person in between her battles. My friend, that's the kind of character I want to read about.

    And okay, yes, it is reaching for her to suddenly get the approval of two kings, a ship crew and the whole nine yards...but maybe that's because that's the end of her quest? Maybe she does something epic to gain the respect of this ship's crew and the two kings somewhere down the line? Maybe all that is towards the end of her long-ass journey? She doesn't start out with this. Maybe the kings are all, "Why should we trust you, little one-eyed girl with a sword??" and she has to be, "Just you watch, you'll see why it's dangerous to underestimate me" or something or another.

    As for the demon falling in love with her? Well, maybe after he sees all the stuff she's been going through, observing how she keeps on going, admires that and wants to know her better? Maybe his kin values honor and skills in a fight, and that's why he admires her for it? He's curious that she fights so hard, for so long for...something.
  4. captain kate

    captain kate Active Member

    May 4, 2008
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    Cruising through space.
    I, too, have female MC's in my novels, and they're every bit as capable as a male hero can be. Don't think because the character's female that they can't be equally as good as a man. :)

    As for how much to beat up on them for growth and plot? As much as it takes in my opinion.
  5. AlexinDelhi

    AlexinDelhi New Member

    Sep 30, 2012
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    Sounds like you are trying to draw a sketch of a character using not words but lines. Withdraw, I would say and meditate. Take a walk, busy yourself doing something else for a day or two. Your subconscious will work for you. It will give you the idea what needs to be done. Sometimes when I get stuck, I get confused, I just withdraw, take time out. Do other things and do not return until I have developed a new perspective or found a solution to the problem at hand. You need to withdraw, go away from it, far away and then look at the whole thing dispassionately, from a distance, from the top above, eagle' eye view as they say. Which of the Bellas you think will go with the flow, flow of your creation you need to know. You are trying to create Bella, you are not living it, not feeling it, not breathing it. You have gotten too much involved I guess with her and forgotten the very reason that's prompted you to write this character.A forced creation will be like a smudge on a beautiful work of art. Let all elements be in harmony with each other, let Bella flow its natural course and things I am sure would come out just fine.
    PS: I don't claim myself to be writer. I am not and never will be. I am here to learn (not the templates and technicalities), to inspire myself, motivate myself from the beauty that lies behind each and every creation-the soul, the heart, the minds of people who create the worlds within this big world. Although, it was not my intention but still if you felt offended by anything I said here, my sincerest apologies.
  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

    Mar 9, 2010
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    As I see it, the problem isn't your character, the problem is your fictional world. Your fictional world is focused on this character, and is determined to grant her fame and accomplishments no matter what you do. You love your character, and your world is acting that out.

    The solution is not to change the character to make her unrealistically slow, antisocial, ugly, and hateful - you already know that that doesn't work. Extremes balancing extremes just make disbelief worse. The solution is to change the world so that it has a normal reaction to a normal girl. Some people like her, some people hate her, most people are indifferent to her. Some of her efforts succeed, some of them fail, most of them accomplish a little bit

    She doesn't have to be a genius - maybe she's moderately well read and knows how to do research. She doesn't have to be adored by kings - maybe she can bribe the king's shoemaker. She doesn't have to be beautiful, but she can be attractive to those who like a particular set of features. And so on. One or two extremes may be permissible, but a bagful of positive extremes opposed by a basketful of negative ones doesn't solve the problem.
  7. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Dec 30, 2010
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    The problem is - WHY does she manage to keep her lover? WHY does everyone trust her regardless? How and why is she able to kill trolls and save a bunch of kids? If it makes sense in your story, it could work. But if you're just making everyone worship her without giving your side characters a good reason to do so - say, in Snow White and the Huntsman or any of the Twilight movies with the real Bella - then that's when you have problems. The reason why your world and other characters treat your MC in such and such a way etc has to be logical - if their only reason is "because she's the MC" then you know it's a problem.

    In my novel - everyone: the rulers of my world, the rulers of the Underworld, my main villain and my female MC, as well as the mysterious realm that holds the power to solve the main conflict of my book - all of them want my MC Will :D The only unexplained one is why the mysterious realm wants Will, but I leave that unexplained deliberately as part of the message of the book. And the rest of them wants Will because they want the mysterious realm's power.

    So in other words, I believe I have good and logical reasons for making such a decision, so it doesn't read like a cheap ploy. But without the reasons and I just tell you everyone wants my MC, you're gonna start thinking "cheap". And the truth is if you had a good reason for the way your characters and your world react around your MC, you wouldn't be posting your problem here because it wouldn't be a problem.
  8. psychotick

    psychotick Contributor Contributor

    Feb 10, 2011
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    Rotorua, New Zealand

    I think I like Bella already. But I think at some point you have to make the story the priority over the character. So you need to determine her chief features not to make her more interesting or colourful or amusing, but to advance your plot. I mean I could draw an angel character and make her absolutely the bomb. But if my plot involved her then getting down and dirty in a mud wrestling competition, it'd be sort of screwed. (Not saying that angels can't mud wrestle, just that it seems a little out of character.)

    Cheers, Greg.
  9. Erin Mallory

    Erin Mallory New Member

    Oct 1, 2012
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    Speaking for myself, when reading I tend to become infatuated with the main character. I relate to them; I love them to do every-day things, to be "human" so to speak. I cheer for them when things go right and cry with their sadness.
    When writing, there comes a time when your character has to be let free to develop on its own. Almost like sending a child off into the world. You hope you've raised them well and you have to let them go and do their thing.
    You've raised this character. What does "Bella" want to do? Don't think yourself into a corner, just remember the character you raised and let her be that.

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