Perfection shmerfection

This morning, Diana Peterfreund posted about the idea of the “perfect” mate in our romance culture–in literature, movies and TV. I’ve actually given this a lot of thought. I’m not immune to the power of Edward Cullen, I’ll be blunt about that–I mean, who wouldn’t want a beautiful, rich, respectful man to love her for all eternity? If that comes down the pipe, I’ll be sure not to turn it down, TRUST. And I like reading about it, and I like seeing movies that have that fantasy in it. Like Diana points out, love in the real world is hard; I would argue that nobody has the perfect relationship, or the perfect mate, but even if there is anything remotely close to that in the world most people don’t even come close to it. Human beings are flawed and deeply insecure and incapable of “perfect” love, because in my mind, perfect love is selfless, and there is always an element of selfishness in all of us. So in a way these stories are comforting. They work hard to tell us YOU DESERVE IT, or perhaps just YOU DESERVE MORE, which is often true in some ways.

I’m not really interested in perfect characters. I’m not even quite that interested in taking a character who appears perfect and peeling away the surface to get at how they’re not perfect. There are plenty of other books that do that, in varying degrees of success. My main interest, what got me writing and what keeps me writing, is my interest in flawed characters and exploring how they interact, what they learn from each other and how they come to know one another, and through doing that how they come to know themselves. I think a lot of the struggles we go through in adolescence and early adulthood (I’m still there, no lies) have a lot to do with knowing and understanding and recognizing our selves and placing those selves in the world. And I think one of the ways that we try to solve those existential problems is through our relationships with other people. And that’s my main interest–how our relationships with other people orient us in the world, but always with the caveat that ONE person cannot be your WHOLE world and that nobody can actually tell you who you are. Among other things, of course.

I probably won’t ever write a character like Edward Cullen, and that’s not because there’s anything wrong with that type of character. Like I said, I fully understand the appeal, and as you know I liked the Twilight series as much as the next person. But it’s not my personal interest as a writer. I’ll leave that to the people who do it well. The thing I think I do well, I think (and maybe I’m giving myself a bit too much credit, here, but whatever, it’s my blog), is taking a character that needs something but doesn’t understand what they need or how to get it or even that they need it, presenting them with an opportunity to at least partially solve all these questions, and following that through to its logical conclusion. I like them to be flawed because that’s what makes them interesting to me, and makes it possible for me to stay in their heads for six years at a time, but also because I am flawed and it’s easier for me to write about that.

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