On Characters & Imperfection

High school is known for its bad reputation. My experience didn’t fall of the self-depreciation, the embarrassment, the insistent need to fit in.

Something I’ve always been embarrassed about, something I’m embarrassed to even be writing here now, is that I had panic attacks every day before I went to school. I never realized what anxiety was until I graduated. I wondered what was wrong with me that I cried every day before I headed out. I hated school with a burning passion. Most days, I made myself so sick from the anxiety and panic, that I would stay home. I couldn’t do it. I was a mess, and I knew it. I hated myself for many reasons. I hated that I was “the shy kid”. I hated that I got an ache in my chest at the simple thought of spending the night at a friend’s house. I hated the tears of frustration, the anger I felt at myself. I liked to learn. I liked to read and write, and I was good at those subjects, but it didn’t make me popular, or beautiful. It didn’t rid my terrible acne or my horrid social skills. In my eyes, I wasn't enough.

I graduated May 2013. Only a few years have passed, but I feel like a different person. It’s funny, what growing up does. Once you’re gone from high school, it’s like the weight of the world is a little different. I’ve learned to know the signs of anxiety. They still hit, but it’s not a constant ache in my stomach and chest. The last panic attack was 2 years ago. In that time, I’ve been on a mission to find myself. It took time. It's still happening and probably always will be. But I’ve learned that it’s okay to be myself. I will always be a quiet person.  I’ll always be high-strung, sarcastic, and bull-headed. I’ve been told that I come off as cold and aloof to many people. A friend once told me that the first time we met, he thought I was mean. I’ll never be extroverted or outgoing, but I’m learning to come out of my shell. And that’s life, isn’t it? It's learning to love who you are, to embrace the flaws that make us each human. That’s the beauty of growing up and coming home to yourself.

There’s a character in “THE TRAITOR’S CRUX”  that I’ve talked about briefly a few times in the past. She’s not the protagonist, but she’s my absolute favorite character for many reasons. It’s not that she’s outgoing or overly friendly, but that no matter how broken she may be, she refuses to give up. She’s fierce, independent, tenacious, and clever. She’s also deeply flawed. 

I love complex characters. Forget the perfect little Barbies, the populars of the world. I love characters with backstories, villains that have been broken for too long, the leader with the wavering confidence. Real life isn’t the pretty little pictures you see on Instagram. It’s not always what people want you to see. It’s messy. It’s real. That. Is. Life. I don’t care who you are. You’ve faced self-doubt. You’ve felt the pain of the human experience. We’re all broken and cracked in our own ways. We’ve all been hurt by life. No one is immune.

To me, the strongest characters are the ones that despite their flaws, carry on with their mission. They may not always be liked. They make mistakes, they face consequences. Sometimes they lose. All in all, they have a goal and they refuse to let anyone, or anything, come between it. Sometimes, the best characters aren’t the strongest at all. Sometimes, they’re the villain that’s been so broken by the world, that they’ve turned against it. The anti-heroes, the villains, the antagonists, are all still people. I think that’s forgotten most of the time. One of my favorite antagonists is Draco Malfoy. In school once, in all my nerdiness, I did a character analysis on him. Draco shows moments of vulnerability, especially towards the last few novels of the series. He started as an insecure boy told time and time again the greatness of his upbringing. His loyalty to his family, his name, nipped him in the bud. As he grew, as the series continued, Draco was brought to his final decision. He made a choice mainly because of family, but also because he was scared and naive. My heart actually breaks for Draco in the last few books, as you see his world begin to cave in around him and as he realizes what he's done.

 

Memorable characters, regardless of their role in the story, are dimensional. They’re human, they’re relatable. My all time favorite show, THE OFFICE, is a great example. Michael Scott is completely annoying. He’s hyperactive, childish, and naive. It’s all driven by his complete need for social acceptance. Michael wants nothing more than to fit in and be liked, and he’s willing to do whatever embarrassing thing it is, to get that. Or look at Rory, from GILMORE GIRLS. Okay, so Rory is well… disliked by many. As smart and as driven as she is, Rory also has the tendencies to be a whiny baby when she doesn’t get her way. She’s used to success, and if she doesn’t meet her own high standards, she acts out impulsively (such as stealing a boat). Elizabeth Bennet from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is loved for her strength, wittiness, courage, and independence. But she’s also cynical and highly critical. She makes false judgments. She’s everything a perfect lady in the Regency Era was told not to be.

 

There are many deeply flawed, and yet, completely memorable characters out there. Think Ebenezer Scrooge (A CHRISTMAS CAROL), Daisy Buchanan (THE GREAT GATSBY), Katniss Everdeen (HUNGER GAMES),  Mr. Darcy (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE), Voldemort (HARRY POTTER), Holden Caulfield (THE CATCHER IN THE RYE), Alina Starkov (THE GRISHA TRILOGY), Theo Decker (THE GOLDFINCH), The Lisbon sisters (THE VIRGIN SUICIDES), and one of my all time favorites: Cal Trask (EAST OF EDEN).  

 

Love them, or love to hate them, these characters are all so human. To me, there’s nothing more wonderful than feeling that connection with a character. Nothing can make me fall in love with a book faster than enjoying each character, learning their stories, and joining in on the adventures. 

 

ho are your favorite characters? Comment below!