Chemically Balanced: building even characters

We have a pool.  It’s refreshing on hot days, fun when the kids want to hang and a great way to get exercise.  It’s also work.  We have to clean it (amazing how much dirt and leaves get in the water even with a cover) and maintain the chemical levels.

Chlorine is the biggy.  If this level is off, it doesn’t even pay to try to balance the ph.  Often, successfully perfecting the chlorine to water ratio is enough to pull the other levels into balance.  Yet Chlorine can’t keep the pool clean solo. 

Sounds a bit like our MCs, doesn’t it?

As writers, we must balance the development of our characters.  If the super fabulous MC ends up with a wimpy best friend or love interest, readers will mutiny.  As a whole, characters must be a good fit, but not necessarily in obvious ways.

They must complete each other like puzzle pieces. 

MC has an Achilles heel.  Counterpart must somehow make up for that.

Sounds easy, right?  Logically, yes.  Execution-wise?  Not so much.  Balancing our characters is a nuanced process.  Readers are tired of the cheerleader falling in love with the science geek because he treats her better than the quarterback.  That kind of nerd-gets-awesome mentality is so 80’s.

Get creative with your chemistry.

I recently beta read an amazing novel about two science geeks.  The MCs were balanced, yet complementary.  The power inequality wasn’t there, as is so often the case in work by aspiring writers.

In my opinion–whatever that’s worth–here’s a few common traps to avoid.

  • Poor meets rich and all is well.
  • Social geek woos social goddess.
  • Big and buff protects fragile flower.

I understand that readers need to root for their MCs, but I’m inclined to enjoy a more balanced union between characters that doesn’t feel so against-all-odds-underdog-comes-out-on-top just because it makes for good conflict. 

In real life, we don’t buy into these relationships.  Those that form because it’s cool and exciting usually fade to nothingness in a short time.  Unless, of course, there is something more.  Relationships must be realistic, even in fiction.  Each partner must give and take.  Each counterpart must fulfil a need for the other half.  And each need must be something more than having the rich dude, the super goddess or the quarterback.

Having a super strong MC who outshines all supporting characters is a bit like dumping a gallon of bleach into a pool when the ph level is off.  It is not refreshing, fun or helpful in any way.  It simply throws the balance so far out of whack, as to make the pool–our stories–unusable.

Readers, are you tired of one-sided relationships that feel more fantastical than a sci-fi novel?  What kinds of relationships do you like to read about?

Writers, how do you balance your characters to keep the end relationships realistic and satisfying?


2 responses to “Chemically Balanced: building even characters

  1. I like to read about relationships that are “real.” The girl and guy that are *gasp* friends first, the relationships where neither one of them is devastatingly gorgeous… let’s go out on a limb and say maybe they’re attracted to each other’s – personalities??!?!?

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