Complex Characters

Silver Linings

A recent thought of mine in relation to young adult books is characterization. Especially because I've been getting back into writing, I've been thinking a lot about characters and what makes a character complex vs. simple. I've looked at a lot of character worksheets and templates, listing things like texture of hands and scent and reaction to fear. But that led me to think about the widening gap we seem to have, between what passes for normal with a character and what passes for normal in a person.

  • Is character development spurred by a romantic relationship immediately passé?
  • Is a character who lets her boyfriend order dinner for her at a restaurant anti-feminist or simply shy?
  • Is a character with predictable actions automatically boring or simply realistic?

A lot of reviews condemn characters as boring and predictable, including my own. I've stereotyped a character on more than one occasion and called what they'd do next. But to be honest, I think we hold characters in fiction to a lot higher standards than anybody else.People can be a lot simpler than we give them credit for. Taking my own personality into hand, I think it'd be pretty easy for somebody to write me off as predictable.There's a lot of emphasis on contradiction, on having a character go back and forth between decisions to show their "realistic" flux as a teenager. Granted, I think that's important because we have a lot of that too. In addition, this is a vastly different topic than diversity in YA. But wouldn't it be nice to simply read a book with a character who might be struggling with exactly the same things we are, without the unrealistic gestures or skills or languages that they learned because they just happened to be a mixture of many different things?In retaliating against popular tropes as seen in fiction, so many people condemn the usage of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl character. I agree with it to a certain extent; we can't always have the protagonist's character development spurred by some quirky girl who quotes Vonnegut and tap dances in her spare time.But take Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars. The cigarette metaphor, the formal syntax, the over-the-top gestures of affection balanced with the calculated bewilderment. Part of me wants to roll my eyes and part of me wants to argue that John Green was making a statement about the ridiculous characterization of love interests in YA. I have so many different varying thoughts on the subject, but the main purpose of Augustus as a character was achieved: he's memorable. Despite not being realistic, we view him as complex because of the varying personalities he displays throughout the book. The gas station scene where he wants to buy cigarettes? Vastly different from the Augustus who takes Hazel on a picnic earlier in the book.A lot of nice characters that I read about - whom I most identify myself with - simply aren't memorable. The emphasis on distinct narrators and explosive love interests is cinematic for certain but I can't imagine stumbling upon a person like that in real life. The meaning of relatable seems to be lost within the spectrum of young adult - in getting characters that will pop when the book's on the market.But it never ceases to make me wonder when I read about a character so similar to myself and read a review that bemoans their simplicity or predictability. Some people act exactly the same throughout the time that you know them, but does that make them weak as a character? Or too simple?What do y'all think makes a character complex?