I was talking to a friend about this new Silhouette Intimate Moments (Romantic Suspense) novel I'm reading and enjoying very much. In it, the heroine is a (former) cocaine addict fresh from 5 months of rehab. This in a "category" romance? It surprises me as much as you. In case you don't know, category romance (Silhouette, Harlequin) is usually very tame. But yes, I like this heroine. She's probably not a typical cocaine addict. She seems like she could actually recover and not use anymore, probably rare for real addicts but I'm sure some do recover completely. This heroine still craves the drug sometimes, in times of extreme stress. She's still fighting it. Still has that internal conflict. It makes me root for her and hope she comes out on top.
So this made me wonder a lot of things about characters. How flawed can they be and still be likable and sympathetic? Are they sympathetic because of their addictions/weaknesses/ flaws or in spite of them? Both, I think.
No one likes a perfect person, in real life or in books. One reason is that we can't identify. We are not perfect. We all have flaws and shortcomings. Ms. Perfect is more like a robot or android than a human. Ms. Perfect has no conflicts, issues, problems, nothing to learn. She would be boring to read about. And if she's always preaching her perfection to others, trying to get them to be like her, well, we would probably want to strangle her.
Now throw the weight of cocaine addiction onto Ms. Perfect's shoulders. That's a big load. It would weigh her down. She would probably want to hide her problem from others, feel unaccepted and weak because of it. Like an outcast, judged by others. This thing is beyond her control and she needs help with it. She is no longer perfect; she's human like the rest of us. She has already become more likable, hasn't she?
What are other weaknesses, flaws, and addictions people or characters could have? Things that on first glance would make us hate them, but once we get to know them, makes us like them instead? It can go either way, we can like them because they're not perfect and striving to overcome their flaw or problem. Or they have good points that make up for their shortcomings.
Smoking, excessive drinking, committing murder, stealing, lying, manipulating, unfaithfulness, violent temper, assaulting people, torturing people.
Could we like people or characters who do these things? Next time, I'll try and convince you that we can.