Where are All the Positive Characters? How to Write a Compelling Positive Character
*looks around old, abandoned attic, where the floorboards creak with my every step*
*sees about ten or fifteen crates all covered by white, dusty cloth*
*removes the cloth, revealing an open crate with an abandoned typewriter inside*
It’s been a while since I last posted, but I’m excited to bring to you my newest article – Where are All the Positive Characters? How to Write a Compelling Positive Character!
I have been majorly working on my current WIP, Sabre Black, since a lot of awesome things have been going on with the process. I’m superbly excited!
I was just pondering earlier about my wary, non-trusting main character (also referred to as an “MC”), Sabre, when something just hit me – where are all the positive characters? And to expand on that, where are all the positive main characters? The MCs who try to smile regularly and be (generally) nice or friendly? It seems most positive and/or happy MCs in particularly YA/young adult novels these days have been replaced with sad, depressed (also known as “angsty” to some) teenagers who just go through the motions of life. Why is that so? Why have we replaced the lighter, sweeter characters with the darker, sadder characters? Let’s discuss that, shall we?
It’s All About the Relatability
Did you know that 20% of all teenagers are depressed? And on top of that, according to PsychCentral,
Approximately two-thirds of teens with major depression also battle another mood disorder like dysthymia, anxiety, antisocial behaviors, or substance abuse.
To me, that’s incredibly sad that so many teens are so down and depressed.
However, authors pick up on things very quickly. Do you remember the fidget spinner? Oh, yes, that horrid, supposedly-boredom-reducing-but-not-really THING. (Unless you actually like fidget spinners. I don’t judge.)
The fidget spinner was invented a long time ago, but became popular and a growing trend in 2017. Guess what – four books (and probably more) were published about cool fidget spinner tricks in 2017 alone.
Like I said, authors pick up on things very quickly.
They can latch onto a trend and morph it into a book (whether it’s a story, a manual, or a trick-book). So, you see, if authors start to notice more and more teens becoming depressed, anxious, antisocial, and all-around sad and down… What are they going to make their MCs like for young adult novels? Happy, cheery, annoying characters? No, they want to make characters that teens will relate with and relate to – and that would be angsty, depressed people. All the more for realism.
And I completely understand where these YA authors are coming from. I’m a YA writer myself, and in my current novel, Sabre Black, it’s written in a fictional world but features a character with quite real problems: trying to overcome her past, trying to fight for what’s right but is uncertain which is which, and the ultimate battle of tradition vs. truth. I understand the necessity to make one’s MC as depressed as so many teens, so that when the teens are finished reading your book, they will overcome their obstacles with the MC.
But, dare I say it (and these are just my personal opinions)… There are all too many of these types of characters.
I’ll leave you on a cliffhanger (typical author, I know), because before I talk about that, I want to explain one other reason why it seems so many authors are substituting positive, happy characters for negative, angsty characters.
And that is… Depth.
Woah, That’s Deep
Have you ever watched a 3D movie? Have you ever watched that same movie in 2D before, and then once you watch it in 3D, it’s a completely different and amazing experience? Instead of a savage’s flying arrow simply flying at the protagonist, the flying arrow flies at you! Instead of the snow simply falling on the ground, the snow is falling on you! It’s an epic experience, and if you’ve ever watched a 3D movie, I hope you agree. (If you don’t… Well… Again, I don’t judge.)
But just like how there is a major difference between 2D and 3D movies, there is also a major difference between 2D and 3D characters. Yes, characters can be 3D – in fact, all characters should be 3D, because that’s what readers relate to.
It’s the difference between a perfect person and a person who seems perfect on the outside but is really covering up his emotional trauma on the inside; between an annoyingly happy person and a person who tries to be friendly with everyone because she has no friends and desperately wants one (so she seems annoyingly happy and friendly to others). On both examples, which person do you think you’d pick to read about? Of course, the seemingly perfect one who really isn’t, and of course the seemingly annoying person who really isn’t. Why is that so? Because they have depth. They’re 3D. You see layers in their personalities, and that makes you love them all the more.
So why substitute the positive characters with negative characters? Well, it seems the majority of positive characters in film and literature haven’t been portrayed all too well. They’ve been annoying, happy, and friendly without any rhyme or reason. And if it’s a main character, that can be very bad – because the reader/watcher might just put the book down or stop the movie!
My family and I are pretty big fans of Ted Dekker’s work (not all of it, because some of it is too dark, but we love his The Circle series). Ted Dekker is an author of mystery, thriller, and fantasy stories. One time, he came out with a new book, and my parents read some of the reviews before purchasing the book. Interestingly enough, one of the negative reviews stated that the reviewer read the book and didn’t like it, because the characters weren’t very interesting; and in turn, it made the reviewer not care what happened to the characters, and not care about the plotline of the book as a whole. If a character died, meh. Whatever. “I didn’t care about him anyway.“
That’s how important writing deep, layered, 3D characters are. If they are only 2-dimensional, well… Your readers don’t care and have, by now, most likely moved on to another book. And you definitely don’t want that.
Why We Need More Multi-Layered Positive Characters – And How to Create Them
You might remember that, earlier, I said, “But, dare I say it (and these are just my personal opinions)… There are all too many of these types of characters.” If you remember that, awesome. Well, I’m a girl of my word, and I told you I’d leave you on a cliffhanger, so let me get you off that cliff now.
So, let me repeat that: There are all too many of these types of characters (in my opinion). Why? Well, even though we authors do tend to innovatively latch onto new trends and happenings, and especially new readers, audiences, and target markets (as well as popular genres), we also tend to stay on those trends for too long, and then each new novel that’s about that trend becomes invalid, cheesy, and redundant.
Not saying writing depressed MCs is redundant, because for now, that trend seems to be working well and reaching the authors’ desired audience. But we shouldn’t stay on this subject for long. Why?
Because teens shouldn’t feel it’s okay to be depressed, to be anxious, and to feel like all that is normal. I’m not saying any depressed or anxious teens out there are not normal – honestly, no one’s normal, and I’m proud to be abnormal – but it shouldn’t be a normal thing to be depressed or to be anxious or to be extra antisocial. Teens should, in my opinion, learn how to overcome their weaknesses and depression/anxiety/etc. and should learn how to live a happy life regardless of the world that tries to pull them down. And if we create so many depressed teen MCs, well, it becomes a trend. So what should we do (in my opinion)? Create those MCs so they connect with the audience, but then transform them. By the end of the story, they’re not as depressed (and they’re not a little ray of sunshine, either, of course). They understand how to be happy, or at least happier.
So how do we create positive characters for teens to look up to and use as role models, but also make them 3D characters that teens will want to read about?
Just like any other good character, give them flaws. Give them weaknesses. Give them things they have to overcome – and if they still seem perfect or a little too close to perfection, well, give them more! If they’re happy all the time, give them a reason why they’re so happy. Is it a positive reason because they grew up with the best parents ever and best siblings ever and has never experienced a loss or never had a hard time? Well, that sounds like a great fairy tale, but that’s not going to sound realistic if that’s what you’re looking for.
However, are they happy because they’re outwardly happy but inwardly sad and trying to cover up that sadness? That’s definitely something a lot of teens can relate to. Are they happy and outgoing because they don’t have any friends but desperately want one? A lot of people can relate to not having any friends, and while it may be realistic for a character to be antisocial and depressed because of that, it can also generate the opposite outcome (becoming desperate) for others. Are they happy because they really, truly are genuinely happy but they’re struggling with the world, bullies, and bad influences trying to pull them down and trying to mold them into someone they’re not? That’s definitely something teens can relate to – being molded by negative influence while still trying to stay happy.
These are all things you can inject into your MCs to add some extra spice and make them not just “happy characters.” Because the last thing you want as an author is to get negative reviews for your characters being too perfect or too naïve or too happy with no sad times.
Think of Joy, from Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out. If you’ve ever watched that movie, then you know the general storyline – it’s about people’s emotions as if they were characters. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust are the stars of the show in this movie – particularly Joy, who’s a bit of a hard character to make as an MC. If one has never seen the movie but knows the main character is “Joy,” and is supposed to represent joy and happiness… It might be easy to think she’s a predictable, perfect, happy character. But, surprisingly, no. Disney and Pixar rocked it when they made Joy a very layered character who is not always, constantly happy. She actually cries during a part of the movie, and she even gets angry at Sadness for getting outside the latter’s little “Sad Circle” that she’s supposed to stay in. Joy actually does have emotions other than joy. Imagine that!
But you see, that right there is the epidemy and perfect example of a generally happy character who could be thought of as predictably annoying, but actually wasn’t. So take Disney’s example (or just read Mariposa Aristeo‘s awesome Storytelling According to Pixar series), and try to insert some other emotions and struggles to remain happy if you are writing a positive character.
So, if you have a character that is positive, insert some struggles here and there that make him/her a layered, interesting character. If you have all angsty characters, I’d suggest making a positive character that IS an MC, not just a helping character, side character, or sidekick.
And if you haven’t written any characters yet, that’s completely fine! Keep on rockin’ it, and do what you think is best for your story. After all, it is your story, not mine, that you’re writing. So go ahead and create any kind of character that you think that’s what the teens will appreciate and connect with.
I hope you enjoyed this article, and please let me know your thoughts by sharing it in social media!
– Written by Arianna Fox, 13-Year-Old Girlpreneur, Double Author, Motivational Speaker, Actress, and Voiceover Talent
AUTHOR | MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER |GIRLPRENUER | ACTRESS & VOICEOVER
Known across the region as a little ball of joy and energy! Arianna Fox may come in a small package, but her ideas are as revolutionary as they are wide-reaching. For several years now, Arianna has devoted her life and much of her time to reaching out to others to spread messages of hope, inspiration, and self-confidence. Making a positive impact upon others and helping them rock their lives to maximum potential is part of this upcoming Kidpreneur’s goal for her interactions with kids, her fellow tweens, teens, adults, and all.
She is a National Award winner with the acclaimed NFPW (National Federation of Press Women), and Multi Award winner with the DPA (Delaware Press Association).
She’s also a professional Voice-over actress & talent, performing for online commercial ads, web series and professional commercials.
She has been featured multiple times in and on News & Media outlets.
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