Barbie was this image girls wanted to be like. Even now, girls still want to be like Barbie. Barbie is tall, blonde, skinny, talented, popular, successful, and gorgeous. Her boyfriend, Ken, is the same way. Now imagine reading about beautiful Barbie and her perfect boyfriend Ken. Boring, right? People don’t like reading about perfect people.
So why do we authors write Barbie and Ken characters?
As authors, we don’t want our readers to rip our characters apart. How many times have you read a story where everything the character did was so completely stupid that you wondered how they even found a way to get up in the morning without messing something up? Why would we want that brutality on our own characters when we could add a few more positive traits? Sadly, this results in the Barbies and Kens of the world. I see this more so for the main love interest (you know the type: tall, dark, handsome, completely loyal to the protag, and well… the perfect guy). These characters are flat and one-dimensional. Big no-nos in the literary world. You would think we would have outgrown Barbie and Ken, yet they pop up all over the place in novels. As readers, we want more.
The key to great characters is balance. Now I’m sure you’ve heard the advice: you have to understand them better or whatever. It’s true, but I wanna take it a little farther. I can’t give you a magical percentage or formula for the perfect character, but I can give you my best advice. Our characters are only human (or not human if you write paranormal). Don’t force them to be more than they are. Yes a tall, blonde, skinny, talented, popular, successful, gorgeous girl (i.e. a Barbie character) sounds good, but they are too good to be true. Nobody’s perfect (yes you may cue the Hannah Montana song), so your characters shouldn’t be either. On the other hand, nobody is completely imperfect. You have to feel what’s right for you and your character because the balance is what creates the living, breathing people we imagine them to be. Let your readers see them as that and not as Barbie dolls/ stupidity walking because your characters are so much more than a plastic doll that people will forget about.
Understand the limits people have that your characters should have too. The beauty of characters are how real they feel to us. Yes you should know them better, but it’s important to remember that at the end of your novel they are real. Real people aren’t perfect, but they are beautiful in their own imperfect way.
Let your characters be fantastic not plastic.