Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Love a Cheater - Character Building

How to Love a Cheater

We like cheaters. Don't get me wrong, we hate being cheated on, and we might not like a cheaters as people. But in stories, cheaters create lies, subterfuge, and deception - drama. And we love drama.

The balance comes when it's your main character - a person who almost always needs to be liked - doing the cheating. To deliberately deceive and lie to a person that you're supposedly in love with is something that repulses most of us, and not many writers want their protagonists to be repulsive. So at the risk of being crass, how can you make cheating OK with your readers?

Honest Mistakes Happen - We can accept when people make mistakes, but only when they behave like adults and own up to them. Not to say cheating is, or isn't forgivable. But as outsiders, we're more likely to forgive and forget if a character treats his mistake as such, and does what he can to make the situation better.

It's Her (or His) Fault! - Show us that this person is in a truly miserable relationship, and that it isn't their fault. After all, if your partner is an evil, jobless leech who treats you like dirt, but you have to stay together because of kids/mortgage/lawyer fees, wouldn't your be tempted?

Make It Sexy - Then there's the temptation itself. Don't just tell us that your character wanted to stray, and did. Show us the person they're cheating with. What makes them appealing and irresistible to your character? In doing this, you not only show us more about what makes your character tick, you do the job of putting us in their shoes. After all, if reading about the new flame turns us on, how can we blame your character?

Nobody's Perfect - Everybody has a weakness. Some people eat too much, some are emotionally needy, and some people cheat. Adultery is a sin that has some dark consequences for the people who get hurt, and that struggle and pain can add real depth to your story. Instead of explaining it away as a one time mistake, explain to us why your character has this issue. Did something happen to him as a child? Does he have commitment issues? Is he just always surrounded by temptation? Use your protagonist's philandering to help us define him, and those around him as people.

Cheating is one of the real "show, don't tell" situations in writing. It's often treated fairly casually by authors, but in most situations, it's anything but. Whenever your characters stray from their relationships, (even if it doesn't culminate in sex) it's important to give the readers concrete and enticing reasons for it. It doesn't have to be explicit - our relationships with people are among the most powerful and emotional experiences in our lives. Dig into their depths and they will deepen your prose.

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