I love cynical characters. Here are some reasons why.
They’re a reminder that we live in an imperfect world where politicians can’t all be trusted, families aren’t always like a greeting card commercial and dreams don’t come true just because we wish them.
They work wonderfully in stories. As the adage says, scratch a cynic and you find a disappointed romantic (or idealist, depending on the version). There’s so much room there for character growth (or renewal, perhaps).
Pairing cynical characters with idealistic ones creates instant tension (think Luke Skywalker and Han Solo). In romances we often see the cynical hero with the idealistic heroine though I love it when that gets reversed, as in Laura Kinsale’s FOR MY LADY’S HEART or Judith Ivory’s SLEEPING BEAUTY.
When don’t I care for cynical characters?
When they remind me of real life cynics I don’t admire. An older relative of mine, who if you tell him you enjoyed a book or a movie or a bottle of wine, will always tell you why it was really crap. People who don’t vote because it’s a waste of time (hopefully there are fewer of those now). People who complain but never take action. Kids who are too cool to sing in the school chorus and make fun of those who do (yeah, this one’s personal).
In romance, it could be the hero or heroine who has checked out of life due to past wounds. Unless those wounds are inflicted on a Kinsalean order, the character comes across as weak and self-pitying. It’s a fine line.
Or how about the hero who says all women are gold-diggers? Until he falls in love with the heroine, of course, at which point he decides she is the one woman in England (or the world) not after his fortune. I can sort of buy this if he’s rather young and still reeling from his first love’s betrayal, but generally I prefer characters with a less simplistic view of life.
I like cynical characters who aren’t totally blind in their cynicism, but recognize that there are many shades of gray in the world and are willing to deal with them. They may act as the voice of caution to their more idealistic friends, but they don’t needlessly rain on their parades.
Just a few of the cynical romance heroes I love: Alverstoke from Heyer’s FREDERICA, Christian from Kinsale’s FLOWERS FROM THE STORM.
Do you enjoy cynical characters? Do you have any favorites? Any who go too far to be sympathetic?