It may be just me, but I'm pretty sure most authors have felt this: Sitting back in the chair, a smile playing at your lips, and sighing, "Oh, (MC), how I love you. You're perfect just the way you are." And then... "Uh-oh."
It's the Must-Love Syndrome, which goes hand-in-hand with the Flawless Main Character Epidemic.
There's tons of advice on this subject, and the consensus seems to be this - give your characters flaws, but make them likeable. Lovable, even, but not hate-able. And we, as authors, are content to give our lovelies a characteristic of always being thirty seconds late, and continue on with the perfection. Heck, if we're really devoted, we'll make the character be thirty seconds late at an important point of the novel, letting down a significant other/sibling/child. But then, of course, they'll apologize and try to fix it. (perfectly, of course, so that the reader immediately forgives them. Of course, the other characters in the book will overreact unjustly, forcing even more sympathy on our poor, 'non-perfect' MC.)
Most serious authors will combat Flawless MC Epidemic, often with serious flaws - sometimes our characters will just show this flaw off themselves. (Rarely do books appear on the shelves with flawless main characters, or worse, a flawless cast of characters.) But in adding the flaw, we submit to the Must-Love Syndrome. We want others to love our characters as well, and will even offer free candy to anyone who'll compliment our characters. Say he's dreamy and I'll give you a tootsie-roll. Pretty please?
It's probably my naivety as an unpublished author, but I don't really think that's wrong. In fact, I think it's extremely difficult to carry off MCs who are positively dislikeable. (Not that it can't be done by the skilled: Madame Bovary, which I'm reading, does an excellent job of this. Wuthering Hights, also, is filled to the brim with unlikeable characters.)
The principles are simple. We understand them. A lot of authors intrinsically know how to display our characters in a fair, realistic light.
one of them appears.
Can it be....?
Yes. It's the perfect character. The one that is perfect. Not contrived, not shining in fake glory. Honestly honest perfection.
Do we force flaws upon that character?
Do we highlight their perfection?
Do we highlight their perfection?
Do we ignore their unlikely perfection and hope no one notices they're flawless?
Here's were the FMCE and the Must-Love Syndrome come into conflict. Obviously perfect characters aren't loved, at least, not as much. The characters we swoon over and say 'he's so PERFECT' are often actually very flawed characters. For Example:
Jacob is overly-possesive
Sirius Black took little care of his safety or the safety of others
Jack Sparrow is a philanderer
Batman is a little obsessed with work
Link is sometimes frustratingly silent.
(These are my swoon characters - is that weird? a little?)
My latest MS is in this conflict. My two main characters - hero and heroine - are both fairly perfect people. And their 'flaws' and 'mistakes' are even perfect(ish). Willing to risk themselves in impossible situations, noble sacrifice, etc. etc. And yet... it's honest. It's really who they are. And the rest of the story is filled with flawed characters. Authors, you know some things can be changed, but you also know that some characters cannot be - not without lying to the story. (non-authors will totally roll their eyes if you tell them this, and then stuff you in garbage cans. Seriously, don't try it.)
I've read about 'perfect' characters whom I've loved. Characters who made mistakes, but mistakes that only made me love them more. Characters who, by definition, are 'flawless.' Ender, for example, is pretty flawless. Tavi, in the Codex Alera, is as close to a perfect leader as you can get. Colonel Brandon is an awfully good character, as both Ada Clare and John Jarndyce in Bleak House are about as good-natured and mistake-less as humanly possible.
Where does that leave us?
Both sides of the case are valid: Perfect characters are unrealistic and unrelatable. But sometimes perfect characters just appear. And are perfect. And in those cases, they can be relatable - they can be real. Sometimes, they do belong in the novel.
Authors, what do you think?
Have you ever had a character who was perfect, and that's just how they were?
Have you ever had a character who was perfect, but in the end, it turned out they needed flaws to make the story real? *I've had this too*
Do you think perfection is a never-do, a do-with-caution, or a just-be-honest-to-the-character?
(Yup, I used traffic light colors for those three. MWAHAHAHA, I'm making you notice my not-so-cleverness!! :D)
Where does the line lie? Is there a problem with no faults, or is the problem with excessive virtues? Is perfect character one who never stops successfully questing for goodness, or is a perfect character one that has that goodness already attained?
Published/Agented authors: Am I just a sadly illusioned young'un who needs to be slapped into reality?
If this is a horribly obvious/'duh' post, I apologize, my brain is still a bit fevered. (HA, that's my excuse! nahnahnahnahnaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahnah!)
(P.S. Penny for your thoughts: Is non-perfect the same thing as flawed? Which is better in a main character, in your opinion?)
(P.P.S. Sorry for being so snarky with all the mwahahahas and nahnahnahs. I really missed you guys. *tear*)