What’s Wrong with Boring Characters?

Have you ever noticed that stories love to celebrate the daring and the quirky? Perhaps that is no surprise; characters who enjoy staying at home to garden or read, or whatever it is that nice, quiet people do, are not exactly as exciting as characters who head off to slay dragons or explore space. But sometimes it can feel as if stories, far from accepting the joy of a quiet life, instead dismiss those who do not crave novelty and adventure. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, a great many of us are probably the “boring” type of person that (some) stories tell us must be shallow, without vision, and unfulfilled. That is far from the truth. Even the most boring of us can be fulfilled and, yes, even interesting.

Not every story dismisses the “boring” characters, but a great many do imply that anyone who just stays at home or does not “put themselves out there” is somehow lacking. Think of all the stories where characters have to “find themselves” by doing something unusual–maybe taking a road trip across the country, skydiving, or attending a bunch of parties in order to be “cool.” While there are certainly benefits to traveling, trying something new, and being social, oftentimes these types of stories suggest that the people who do not do these things just do not have the same zest for life as people who are always searching for novelty. They suggest that, had the character not taken a European tour, or not smoked that thing at that party, their lives would have been empty, their transformation incomplete.

Most recently, I was pondering the retelling of Peter Pan in Soman Chainani’s Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales. [Spoilers ahead!] Narrated by an older Wendy, the story follows her initial crush on Peter, her realization of his brutality, and her subsequent romance with a pirate. Despite her love for the pirate, however, she leaves Neverland and marries a boring man. But she carries on an affair with the pirate for years, eventually bearing him a son. The implication is that, because the husband is boring, because he has not been to Neverland, and because he presumably never would want to visit Neverland even if he had the chance, his wife is fully justified in cheating on him and having a child with another man. A person just can’t love a man who carries on through daily life as if there is nothing more.

However, the reality is that many people probably would not want to go have adventures in Neverland due to the high probability of death or injury. Which seems very reasonable. Adventures are nice to read about, but not necessarily nice to have. But does that mean that the people who would not fly away to fight with pirates are not worth respecting and not worth loving? Though Wendy tells the story and gives readers her perspective on the matter, I could not help but sympathize with the husband. It is not really his fault that he is satisfied with his life and his job. His main mistake seems to have been marrying someone who does not appreciate him. If only he had married an equally boring person who would have been content to live a quiet life–and loved him! [Spoilers ended.]

Quite a lot of people probably qualify as the “boring” characters so many stories dismiss. But there is nothing wrong with leading a quiet life or being content with what one has. Nor is it true that one cannot find one’s self unless one spends a lot of money to go on a trip or unless one does things one would not normally do. Self-reflection can happen anywhere, not just exotic locales. And unusual external events do not have to be only impetus for change in one’s life.

It makes sense that writers love to write characters who encounter exciting events or who find themselves in unusual circumstances. But not everyone has to chase novelty to be fulfilled. So let’s celebrate the boring characters–the ones who, hopefully, have already found happiness in their lives and in the simple pleasures those lives bring. In some ways, that seems more inspiring than having to chase adventure to find meaning.

11 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Boring Characters?

  1. mphtheatregirl says:

    While I tend to drawn more towards complex characters, I can still love those who are on the more simple and “boring” side.

    Even some of my characters don’t have much to them, but yet still love them- they still play an important part to the stories they come from. Maybe those characters have more to them then we think

    Like

      • mphtheatregirl says:

        One of my characters, who is a minor character, is more than you think.

        Tweetsie- you might think she is just energetic due to only five. However, that isn’t true. She isn’t just that- (not saying how- not saying spoilers)

        Like

  2. Books Teacup and Reviews says:

    This was awesome. My life is quiet. there isn’t much adventure and it get monotonous most of the time. I get my adventure from books but that doesn’t mean I would be a boring company (maybe some might find me boring). I can socialize, party and have fun in life whenever I get the chance and time and I would like characters who are the same. Not everything is about adventure and it feels wrong to see characters normal characters are undermined or undervalued.

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    • Krysta says:

      Haha, yes! I actually prefer when my life is boring because, when it’s not, it’s usually because something has gone wrong! If I have no news to report, I consider that a good thing! But it’s so true. That doesn’t mean I can’t have an interesting conversation or socialize.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Charvi says:

    Omg yesss this post!
    I agree that main characters can’t be boring but often main characters sort of antagonise boring characters for not going along with them or just look down on them which is unfair. I mean I often get swept away in the emotions of the book and feel the same way but if I reflect I’m usually on the boring character’s side lol.

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    • Krysta says:

      Same! Of course, you need an adventurous character to go have adventures and make the story interesting. But that doesn’t mean the person next door who stays home doesn’t deserve any respect! Maybe they just have more common sense! XD

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  4. Anjana says:

    I recently read a book (A radical act of free magic by H G Parry) where I had the same train of thought. The wife of a lead character does not have the usual ‘sparkle’ to the extent of indifference but I loved the layers of nuance to her presence and was surprised by my reaction because I usually gravitate towards more active ones. 😃

    Like

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