Problematic Characters = Great Characters

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Photo Credit to Paz Arando

I am a character driven reader. A book can have a plot full of plot holes and ridiculous cliches but if the characters are A++? I’ll probably still love it anyway. There’s nothing worse than reading a book with flat and boring characters. However, while I love books that have the go-to hero and villain, I LOVE characters that are neither but in between, a mix of both, or have the potential to be both.

Basically I’m more inclined to love characters that are morally ambiguous. This is how I’ve come to love the characters in Six of Crows, or Adelina from The Young Elites. I’ve come to love characters that seem one way and then surprise you in your reading by doing something they usually wouldn’t do whether it’s spurred on by a budding romance or by a strong relationship.

Why do I love these characters so much?

Honestly it’s because it keeps me interested. It wants me to know more about our characters. By bringing these different layers and facets to a character, I want to push them to their limit and test their abilities to learn more about them. Maybe I’m secretly a mad scientist on the inside… but still. It keeps me on my toes, it has me leaning in and paying attention. I want to peel back every layer, look at every facet and see what makes up this character.

This might come from me being in theatre and acting, but it’s just something that’s been constantly interesting in my experience as a reader. Even as a writer, my characters were always a lot stronger than the plot. I work and work on my characters until I fully know I can channel them and bring them to life on the page.

What I probably love most is seeing characters that are usually viewed as good and honorable to have a spot of darkness in them. Why? Because to me they seem more human. I like seeing them confront this darkness and make the decision to either fight it, embrace it, or use it to their advantage. It really speaks to me about how their character is (not them being a character but… character). I especially love it more when that same kind of character is confronted with a character of the complete opposite spectrum on an even playing field (such as Lila and Kell from ADSoM).

Sometimes I love characters that seem like the villain and then, again, kind of surprise you in the end such as Rhysand from A Court of Mist and Fury. He’s done incredibly problematic and unapologetic things, but I still really love him. Mostly because he helped Feyre with her own mental problems and well.. didn’t–ok I’ll stop before I spoil anything. BUT my point is that it tells me there’s always something more and something else to learn about a person. 3

What about you guys? Are you interested in problematic characters?

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12 thoughts on “Problematic Characters = Great Characters

  1. Great post, Alexa! I’m a bit iffy about ‘problematic’ characters but it really depends, I think, on what you mean by problematic. For me, what you said (“characters that are usually viewed as good and honorable to have a spot of darkness in them”) would be more like well-developed characters to me instead of ‘problematic’. I’m also OK with morally ambiguous characters, i.e. the characters in V. E. Schwab’s Vicious.

    What I think about when someone says ‘problematic character’ is a character whose beliefs/values/actions are sexist, racist, body-shaming, slut-shaming, etc., and they don’t get called out for it. For example… say a love interest says things like “You’re not like other girls” and implies that other girls are “emotional and crazy” – I think it’s problematic when he is portrayed as being right.

    But! Morally ambiguous characters are right up my alley. 😀

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  2. I feel exactly the same! Problematic characters are way more interesting, and if I’m honest I’m not a fan at all of those ‘cookie cutter heroes’ you sometimes see. I prefer characters with a little bit (or even a lot!) of darkness in them, which is why I like a lot of fantasy series like A Song of Ice and Fire where there isn’t really any out and out good or bad characters.
    (And Rhysand is one of my absolute favourite characters!)
    Great post! 🙂

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  3. I am right there with you! I MUCH prefer characters who are shades of gray to characters who are merely black and white – especially villains. One book that I read recently that has lots of interesting shades of gray is The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid – you should check that one out!

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  4. Ok well I still don’t want my plots to be full of holes lol, but I’m definitely a character person. And I also like the problematic, truly flawed characters. I do sometimes end up liking those kinda perfect characters, but the ones who stick with me the most are the ones with real flaws, who sometimes do crappy things, who sometimes disappoint me, etc. The perfect ones just aren’t as memorable or relatable.

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