Ahead of the publication of her debut novel, Crier’s War, author Nina Varela muses on the type of character she loves the most (spoiler: it’s not the Edward Cullen type.)
The older I get, the more I appreciate soft characters.
My teen years were: Edward Cullen and a thousand other brooding male love interests. The jaded, cynical antiheroes, the boys who were often cruel to their respective female protagonists. The tortured souls. Vampire/werewolf/elf prince/fallen angel boys who spent centuries killing humans and developed a bit of a complex about it. Boys who were cold on the outside but, of course, had secret hearts of gold.
God bless ‘em. Thanks for getting me through high school, boys. But as I continue to grow and settle into myself, to pin down who I am as a person—who I want to be, who I want to become, the kinds of stories I want to tell—I find myself drawn to characters who are pretty much the exact opposite.
I like the “weaklings”, the crybabies, the marshmallows, the naive idealists. The characters who couldn’t be mean if they tried and just straight up would not be able to stab someone. Because that doesn’t actually make them weak. Strength isn’t measured by how good you are at hurting people. Or it shouldn’t be.
There is strength in gentleness, and grace in emotional vulnerability. I love complicated, well-written morally grey characters, but I think my favorite will always be the characters who are just plain good at the core. Who value helping people above all else, who want to do the right thing, who want to minimize suffering, who are open and earnest about all of this. There’s this weird social thing where coolness is defined by how convincingly you can act like you don’t care about anything, and nobody ever wants to be “The One Who Cares More”. Because it’s embarrassing—spilling out of the lines, being too much, too emotional, too needy, too easily hurt, too human. Much better to close yourself off, hide your feelings, be the ghoster. Who wants to walk this earth with their heart out in the open? I find myself keeping secrets from my closest friends—telling no one if I apply for a new job, if I enter a writing contest. If I have a career opportunity I’m not sure will work out. I keep my mouth shut. Because how embarrassing would it be if I just let myself hope all over the place for nothing?
I’m trying to stop doing this. I’m trying to start hoping loudly, all over the place. To be more open about how sometimes I feel like I’m drowning for months at a time. I no longer have any interest in being cool, and my writing and reading choices have begun to reflect that. I want to put more soft bright hearts out into the world. Characters who care about every damn thing with their whole self and aren’t afraid or embarrassed to show it. Who are just unabashedly empathetic. The first examples that come to mind are both Finn and Rose Tico from Star Wars—and, of course, Samwise Gamgee, the true hero of The Lord of the Rings. Finn was supposed to be a Stormtrooper and turned out to be a hero; Rose and Sam are the normal folks who get swept up in an adventure, in a war, and keep fighting because they want to protect the people they love—and the people they don’t even know, and the people who haven’t even been born yet. They want to make things better for the people who come after. I think that’s beautiful. When hope is the driving force.
Compassion is magic, man. It’s not boring to be good. Actually, I cannot think of anything more interesting than a character who lives in a broken world and doesn’t let it make them cruel. Give me a character who takes that brokenness and uses it as one more reason to be kind, to keep fighting the good fight. Give me the softies and bleeding hearts, the messy kids who hope too loud. I know a ton of them exist. I’ll just never get tired of meeting new ones.
Featured Images Via garage26 and HarperCollins
Nina Varela’s debut novel Crier’s War, is out October 1st from HarperTeen.