Perfect Character, Guest Post by J.M. Richardson

13975376_1086235261466733_931556592892057057_o.jpgMeet J.M. Richardson.

J.M. Richardson is an American author of action, suspense, and political fiction. His works include The Twenty-Nine Series, as well as the James Beauregard novels, The Apocalypse Mechanism and The Barataria Key.

Richardson was born and raised in southeast Louisiana, near New Orleans. As a young man, he was fascinated with history, but particularly that of his own state of Louisiana, New Orleans, and its culture and lore. He attended Louisiana State University, where he parlayed that fascination into an education degree, and began teaching US and world history in public schools. Soon after, he married and moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where he continued to teach, and does to this day.

He began The Apocalypse Mechanism in 2006, but with no luck in picking up an agent or publisher, he wrote a different story, The Twenty-Nine. In 2011, the novel was published by Winter Goose Publishing. Soon after, Winter Goose picked up The Apocalypse Mechanism. There are now four novels in two series, the most recent being The Barataria Key.

Richardson also enjoys playing guitar, cooking, golf, brewing craft beer, and blogging. He resides with his family in the Fort Worth area.

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Guest Post – Perfect Character

I bet you’ve had a book like this. You got excited about it. All your friends had suggested this one. They built it up to be the next great American novel, or if nothing else, a guilty pleasure. Judging by the buzz on Goodreads, this will end up being a series on Showtime in no time, airing right after The Affair. The best part about it is you can say you read it back when it was just a novel. You get to tell people, with honest bragging rights, that the book was better than the show. You sit down to read it, a glass of wine in your hand, and maybe your dog snuggled up next to you. It starts out great, and as you finger page after page, you make some observations. You love the plot. It’s well-constructed, well written, and extremely complex. The author put a lot of effort into that. But something’s missing. You can’t seem to relate to the characters. They’re not realistic. They’re far too perfect to make any sense. If you’re like me, this might actually ruin the whole book, even with all of the other qualities in play.

Since I primarily write adventure/suspense fiction, I’ll give you a great example from my own genre. Did anyone read the blockbuster smash, The Da Vinci Code? I bet you did. The marketing was brilliant. It took off the way it did mainly because of the controversy. People were in uproar over what they deemed as blasphemy, and the more people boycotted it, the more other people wanted to read it, and I suspect that many of the protestors secretly crossed the picket line just to see for themselves what it was all about. I love the thought Dan Brown puts into his story. I love the amount of research. In my own novels, if I’m to make the content believable and accurate, before I can ever add fictional spin, I have to do the proper research, lest I look like an idiot when people actually Google what I wrote about.

I really liked Brown’s stories, but the one thing that did not sit well with me was Robert Langdon. He’s a brilliant professor; the ultimate history geek and guru of symbolism. He can interpret hidden messages in Renaissance paintings and decode complex ciphers developed by ancient cults. Yet, in his forty-something years of life on earth, the only character flaw he ever developed was claustrophobia? That’s it? He gets nervous in elevators? He fell down a well as a kid, and that was the only devastating thing that ever happened to him? Has he ever been dumped? Did he ever cheat on an exam? Drive drunk? Try an illegal drug? Come on, he’s that squeaky clean?

Maybe the author didn’t deem those things to be relevant to the story. I can see a writer skipping out on some aspects of a character’s past experiences. Perhaps no one needs to know about Langdon’s Scooby Doo undies as a kid.  I’m not looking for trivial details that bog down the story. However, I do want to see the character developed thoroughly. All I know about Robert Langdon is that he’s brilliant and finds himself in the middle of major world conspiracies. He always saves the day, and that’s fine. But I also want to know who hurt him in his world. Where are his demons? Where is his heartache. What are his vices? That, I can connect to. He’s real. He’s like me.

I’ve seen Dan Brown develop his antagonists in this way. Remember the guy that would flog himself in penance after he murdered people? That was interesting. But his heroes and heroines are completely likeable, and I don’t like that. Maybe Brown has no darkness of his own. I doubt that. I certainly have mine. I pass that right along to my main character and any other character I create. I want you to relate to their anguish. I want you to shake your head a little at the choices James Beauregard (The Apocalypse Mechanism; The Barataria Key) makes. He’s dark because I’m dark. In fact, in my first book about James, my editor and I had real conflict over just how dark he was. I wrote him as such a damaged jerkwad, that my publisher was afraid no one would like him enough to read the book. Dr. James Beauregard actually had to be toned down, and he’s still a jerkwad. But he’s real. He’s me. He’s you.

That’s the goal here. Literature is art. Just as a painting can draw you into its world, or a song can remind you of some lost love, literature is meant to evoke emotion. You read because you want to connect. It makes you feel. You find yourself sharing hurt, love, or simply whisked away to some fantasy world far away from your own troubles. As a writer, you owe it to your readers to make those characters real. The reader must relate in some way. They must feel. You’re not doing to do that with a perfect, cookie-cutter character.

One response to “Perfect Character, Guest Post by J.M. Richardson”

  1. Great post and a terrific reminder that our main characters do have flaws, or at least, they have been hurt in the past, which makes them who they are now. Thank you.


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