I read many books. Those I like best are often character driven. Recently I’ve increasingly read about characters whose outcomes I doubt. Characters who start from rough beginnings culminating in successful careers due to love or uber passionate sex. I find my sense of disbelief hard to suspend with these characters. Life has proven the cliché ‘old habits die hard,’ which might be more apropos for these characters. Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with any specific genre’s use of sex, or even characters who come from difficult or abysmal beginnings ultimately succeeding. I just want to believe the character’s growth and change comes through something more than love alone, or an abundance of sex. Maybe I’m just an old fogey. (Actually I probably am, but I don’t think things have changed that much, have they?)
I firmly believe people don’t change unless they want to, and usually they have to work hard to achieve that change. So should characters in difficult situations. Don’t tell me a homeless teen got a GED, cleaned up his or her drug addiction and before turning thirty became the conniving but personable manager of an important department in an industry leading business. Or that a hot romance with one of the owners of the business is going to lead to top-level leadership. It does not happen.
I realize I was lucky and came from a loving family that demanded responsibility, going to school, and civil comportment. Observing my grandchildren and those of my siblings, I know that ethic has been passed on. Does this mean I couldn't write about a character with a very unfortunate beginning? I can imagine what awful situations a character might come from, and what it might be like emotionally, but I don’t really know. Yet with the access to social, psychological and historical research and all true-life examples available in media today, I can probably discover situations and motives that would drive such characters and then show my readers the battles faced to overcome the past. Isn't that better than using my assumptions which might leave the reader stuck thinking about how a change happened?