Tag Archives: carrie ryan

The Not-So-Perfect Character

It was a dark and stormy night.

Okay, not stormy, but dark.  All shades of dark, actually, when I read the last words on Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth.  I won’t lie to you, this isn’t a book for the casual reader.  It has zombies–the Unconsecrated–who roam the land and feed off the flesh of living humans. 

I started at 8:00pm while my youngest wept his way through Harry and the Hendersons.  I closed the back cover shortly after midnight and flicked off the basement light to make my way upstairs.

Immediately, I was plunged into total blackness.  The tiny orange rectangle outlining the light switch did nothing but beckon me to flip it back on.  Instantly, the hairs on the back of my neck fluffed up like a German Shepard’s scruff. 

Reality is that Miss Ryan’s book wasn’t scary at all while I read it.  Not one iota.  Nor do I believe in zombies in any way shape or form.  And truly, if they are as shufflingly slow as they are portrayed across media in general and this book in particular, I had nothing to fear.  Even if they were real.  Sheesh, I could outwalk them on a good day. 

And yet, this knowledge didn’t stop me from wanting to sprint up the stair to my DH slumbering in bed.  Rather than give in to it, I forced myself to walk up each step.  It didn’t help that the night was cloudy with no moon or stars spilling through the windows.  The pitch black played right into my zombie induced imagination.  A feat worthy of noting since I am not easily spooked.

Which makes me believe that Miss Ryan did something right.  Even after closing the pages of her book, her characters stayed with me.  And not just the Unconsecrated.  While brushing my teeth (safely in the bathroom with DH between me and the zombies), I couldn’t let go of the MC. 

She was an anomaly to me.  At times brave, yet selfish.  She was motivated by the haunting memories of her beloved mother’s childhood stories.  Even as death and desctruction ripped through the tiny band of survivors, she pushed on.  Even when love…well, I can’t say any more for fear of spoiling the book. 

I don’t even know if I like Mary.  Yet she was so well fleshed out: such a contradiction of actions, so truly a teen in distress living for herself and something bigger than herself all at once.  She was real.  More real than the zombies who followed me upstairs.  More real because she wasn’t perfect.

Most of the time I like the MC’s of my favorite books.  Nay, I love them.  Not so with Mary.  Instead, I felt a deep connection with her and her drive to believe, to hope, to dream.  Her ability to push forward against insurmountable odds.  Her strength in motivating others to follow.

We would not be friends in real life, me and this Mary.  She is far too selfish.  And yet, I would respect her and her ability to throw herself in the middle of a dark and stormy night.  Zombies be damned.

As a reader, have you ever run across a character you don’t like, but connect with anyway?  What makes a good character?

As a writer, have you ever written an MC you don’t like?  If so, why?  And more importantly, how?  How do you pen an entire novel about a character you would not invite to your slumber party?

And for everyone: what value is there in not glamming up the MC? 

I, for one, get tired of the cliched characters.  The beautiful.  The smart.  The perfect size six and the uber-buff surfer dude in a suit.  The MC’s that are more wonderful than I will ever be who just seem a little down on their luck for the sake of a story. 

Whether Miss Ryan intended for Mary to be a bit selfish or not, it worked.  The companion book now calls to me from my night stand.