Should I be disturbed by this criticism?
It’s the most common thing people say when I submit first drafts. It plagues my rewrites through the process. Only after much editing can I seem to fully address the problem of:
Characters who are too forgiving. Who react in childish ways. Who talk in cliches. Who, basically, act too differently from living people.
Should I be concerned? How concerned?
It’s an odd criticism to deal with. Bad narrative I could understand. Poorly thought-out stories I could deal with more easily. But unreal characters? It’s damn hard for me to grasp how and why my characters come out so odd at first.
This criticism hits hard because it seems to say something about me. Do I not know people? Have I not been close to enough people? Am I basing my characters solely off TV, movies, and books?
Whatever the reason, it’s a clear reminder of why I need a Writing Club that meets in person. Not only so that the other members can let me know how badly I misunderstand my own characters, but so that I actually do meet real breathing people, aside from my wife and kids, on a regular basis.
It also reminds me that I do need to work against the stereotype of the shut-in writer who barely talks to people. I need to interact with people regularly and listen to others interact regularly so that I can give better voices to my characters.
I wonder if many writers struggle with this kind of thing. Do many writers have characters who seem totally unreal in the early drafts? I wouldn’t be too surprised if there answer were yes – it is hard to know real people, harder to create people who act like real people.
It’s a wake-up call, I suppose. Get outside, writers! Step away from the keyboard every now and then and meet people. Talk and listen – a lot!