I’ve been pondering this question for a long time now and I’m putting it out to all of you. How realistic do your characters really have to be? Seriously, what makes a character believable and what puts them over the edge? For me, I’m pretty open to characters with deep flaws, strange cravings, weird ideas, etc. but the one thing I can’t get past is the skinny girl with the huge appetite. Why? It’s just too strange for me.
Example number one: Grace Adler, played by Debra Messing, in Will & Grace. She is constantly eating, mentions the entire box of Krispy Kremes she just ate, or the entire gallon of ice cream, etc. What the heck? She is skinny as a rail and talks about all the food she eats and it drives me crazy. Nobody can eat that much and look like that, especially since her character is not particularly active. But then again, I do love the show and watch reruns constantly. The writing is fabulous.
Example number two: Lucy Kelson, played by Sandra Bullock in Two Weeks Notice, (don’t even get me started on the comma missing here). She orders a shitload of Chinese food throughout the movie, enough for a table of 10 and presumably all for herself. She always comments on her huge appetite and is seen eating throughout the movie, even bringing home everyone else’s leftovers. How does she look like that?
The idea, I’m guessing, is that most women would love to have that situation and we want so much to be like those characters. Yes, I’d love to eat like Grace Adler and still look like Debra Messing. But is that believable? Not really. The reality is that she probably starves herself constantly to look like that and stay on TV.
But when creating a character for a movie, book or play, how far can you go until people stop caring or believing in that character? I loved Jennifer Wiener’s book, Good in Bed, simply because the character was always trying to fight the weight, not eat a box of donuts and still fit into a size 2. Perhaps that’s why Bridget Jones took off so well and Renee Zellweger had to gain weight to play her (only to lose it all right away, proving it wasn’t really OK to look like that, right?) Watch this beginning to Bridget Jones’s Diary for a laugh…
What was the most unrealistic character you’ve encountered? Did it make you angry, frustrated, or did you get it? Do you worry that your characters are not believable, or do you count on your readers to suspend their disbelief and follow along?