Lisa Shearin, National Bestselling Author

Why I love "gray" characters

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I’ll admit it — I have a soft spot for devious, gray area characters.

The world isn’t black and white (as much as some people try to tell themselves otherwise), and neither are we. Even the most evil person (or character) has some redeeming quality or at least some quality that is less than pitch black, or has a justifiable reason (even if it only exists in their own mind) for what they do. And the most noble or innocent character probably harbors some not-so-innocent thoughts in the shadowy corners of their mind. This is what makes characters real; it makes them jump off of the page — it makes us as readers care about them. We want the evil ones to get what’s coming to them; and when that happens in a book, we have a sense of satisfaction, feel vindicated; in short, we cared what happened.

The other day I started to read (or tried to read) a thriller. The plot was fresh, sounded really cool, as did the characters — until I got into it. I waded through the first 40 pages then I had to put it down; I couldn’t go any further. I really tried to give this book a chance, but it just wasn’t working for me. I even flipped through the rest of the book and read sections in case it got any better. It didn’t. Truth is, I put it down because I had no emotional stake in the story — I didn’t care at all what happened to the characters. I wasn’t drawn in. I couldn’t identify with them.

That being said, giving characters dimension beyond their “type” (good & noble hero) quite simply is what makes a character real. Real people are made up of black, white, and gray. A noble character may want to be good, but might be waging an internal struggle (brought on by a conflict with another character or an event that happened to them) that makes them want to do something that they know is not right. But what is wrong in some circumstances is understandable and perhaps even the right thing to do in another situation. As readers, we respond to characters who we can understand and identify with. People who, like us, struggle with decisions and choices. Get that kind of character on your pages and you’ll get readers who care and keep coming back for more.

Coming up tomorrow: I’ll be announcing a new contest with a prize that I’ve never offered before.

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