So, this past weekend, I finally watched a movie that had been in my Netflix queue for a while. Ruby Sparks is about an author struggling with writer’s block who envisions his ideal girl in a dream—a flash of inspiration that compels him to write, and the more he writes, the realer she becomes, until she actually turns real. Without getting too spoilery, this results in comedy and romance, and it does get a little bit creepy and dark in places.
This story about a writer who falls in love with his character got me thinking about a couple of things. First: do we, as writers, need to fall at least a little bit in love with our characters to make them lovable on the page? Have you ever written a character—specifically a romantic lead—that is absolutely not your type? I know I haven’t. Every romantic hero has at least several elements that I find attractive: sometimes physically, others, more personality-wise. Have you ever had a crush on one of your characters? And is that, like, really embarrassing to admit lest others find you mentally disturbed? And what if, like Calvin in Ruby Sparks, you would bring your crushiest character crush to life as your boyfriend or girlfriend (supposing you’re available or at least swinging)?
But before we get ahead of ourselves and start magically populating the world with hunky tycoons and werewolves with hearts of gold, let’s back up a bit. What kind of people would they be? Would you actually want that Alpha male around, or would you send that obnoxious psycho packing the first time he broke into your house to “protect” you (or after an entire day of whimsy, would you tell that manic pixie dream girl to tone it down or hit the bricks)? I think a lot of times, what translates as sexy on the page might be bordering on deal-breaker in real life.
And now, for the dark part: again, trying to avoid spoilers, but since the premise of the movie is that Calvin wrote Ruby into existence, we know he can make her do whatever he wants by simply writing it. In the film, it gets ugly and sad. As writers, we can make our characters do anything in the world, and we do it all the time. But we have a responsibility here to respect the characters we’ve spent so much time layering with personal histories, quirks and traits to make them real. When we go against these traita and write a character’s actions simply because the plot calls for it, we’re forcing them—and mistreating the “people” we’ve created and love. Worst of all, the reader won’t believe it.
Now it’s confession time: have you ever had a character crush? Would you like him or her in real life, or would they be a royal pain? Have you ever had a portion of your story just not ring true and realized it was because you were forcing your characters to act in a way they wouldn’t? Spill the sordid details—I promise I won’t judge!