Unrealistic characters…or why Grace Adler eats so much

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?


7 thoughts on “Unrealistic characters…or why Grace Adler eats so much

  1. That whole eating issue definitely bothers me, and not just because of the whole weight-gain issue, but also because: who can eat an entire box of Krispy Kremes, *really*? Like: a WHOLE BOX? I think I would throw up if I tried, calories aside.

    What’s starting to bother me is the “pretty girl who doesn’t know she’s pretty” thing. Is that really realistic? Surely there are some oblivious “pretty girls,” but they can’t ALL be like that. But I have to say that even though things like that bother me, I am generally good at ignoring them if the story is strong enough.

    Now I’m starting to worry if my characters have any of those unbelievable elements. It’s definitely something to pay attention to.

    • I think the more I see these types of characters, the more it makes me look at my own characters to be sure they are not too unbelievable. And I know what you mean, the pretty girl who doesn’t know it has been around for a long time. But just like Will and Grace, if it’s done right, it can be overlooked.

  2. Generally, unless I’m writing humor, I steer away from giving my characters quirky flaws or habits. I don’t want my reader to have to suspend their normal rational thought process just to accept my characters. I think that is a dishonest trick. Unless used as a stick of humor, which in the case of Will and Grace is probably what the writers are after and in that instances I think it is completely acceptable.

    But when you write serious dystopian fiction, as I usually do, it is more important for me to have my readers connect on a less superficial level.

    I want my characters to be memorable. I think that is the goal of all writers. But I want them to be remembered for their struggles and their accomplishments, and especially for their strength of character. If I ever feel I need to resort to installing a quirk to make my character memorable, than I believe I’ve failed my reader, my character, and myself.

    • Very insightful and I believe you’re right. Sometimes, quirky characters are just what a story needs. But if you find yourself inserting quirks to make the character lovable, it’s not going to work.

  3. Very interesting discussion. Not only because it’s beyond realistic for normal people to eat mass quantities of food and not gain weight unless they have some type of a health issue but because when it comes to the ‘fat girls’ on TV they always have to eat salad or are on a diet or watching what they eat or eyeballing the candy/pastries/junk food.

    Where’s the balance? Why can’t the fat girl eat a box of Krispie Kreme donuts and not worry about gaining weight? Societal pressures, I guess.

    I loved Camryn Manheim on The Practice b/c she was so comfortable with herself. Not just her character but I know she advocated for ‘the big girls’ when writers would want her to do or say stupid stuff. Her book was very good.

    I remember all the flack Delta Burke took over the years on Designing Women b/c of her ‘plus size’.

    And just 10 or so minutes ago I came across an article about a plus-size model (She’s a size 10 for goodness sake!!) who was airbrushed to look more like a size 2. Seriously. I think there is a problem with weight and food as it relates to women when it comes to the media.

    I think books can be more realistic. And I think authors take more time to make their characters authentic because they know they’ll be taken to task. And unlike the TV machine, book authors only get one shot at making their characters come to life. You can’t go back and re-write Chapter 13 if there is backlash. On TV though, there’s always next time. For the book author, there might not be a next time.

    • I saw the article you’re talking about and I’m shocked that 10 is considered plus sized, but not surprising in the world we live in right now. Being thin is more important than ever in the media, yet we face an overwhelming number of people, including children, who are obese.

      As far as characters go, I think they need to be believable and that is the writer’s job. Whether they have a quirk or not, if a writer can put in in there the right way, it works. Grace Adler works, I hate to say it. I always laugh (but I’m jealous underneath). I was just told by a good friend of mine who just read my blog, and who is very thin and tiny, that she has been known to eat an entire box of Krispy Kreme donuts and does eat like Grace Adler, yet she’s the thinnest of all my friends. I always assumed she starved herself and worked out like crazy. Color me wrong, but there are people out there like that. I stand corrected, dear friend, but for the majority of us it’s not that easy. I think this just proves that good writing can save a character, but giving a character a quirk that doesn’t work won’t save a story.

  4. Pingback: Can you really chase a perp in those heels? | Valerie Demetros – The Writing Life

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