Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Flawed Characters

What issues do your characters have?

Oh, I'm not talking about the fact that Character A made the fashion faux pas of wearing white socks with dress pants and shoes - the horrors. I'm talking about the issues that make your characters a) more human and b) relateable.

Lynn Price over at Behler Blog did a great post about Character development - Ken and Barbive vs. The Seven Deadly Sins. Go check it out!!

The post talks about the importance of character development. Go on - check it out!

Now that you've checked it out . . .

. . . let me tell you a bit about my characters: they're flawed! Yup, flawed. They're far from perfect.

My characters . . .

. . . have receding hairlines. Yup!
. . . have weight issues.
. . . have money issues.
. . . have other issues.

I have a character who, just upon seeing a cookie, has fat cells that go into a multiplying frenzy similar to the feeding frenzy of piranhas when a stray cow happens to fall into their path!

My characters are far from perfect.

Okay, I've had a perfect character . . . or twelve, make an appearance in my writing. It happens. Perfect hair. Perfect teeth. Perfect life. Perfect relationship. Blah, blah, blah.

Personally, I don't want to read about perfect people who have their lives perfectly together.

I have bad hair days. Boy, do I have some bad hair days.

My characters have bad hair days as well. My characters step in cat vomit that squishes up between their toes and make them curse their cat. Yes, that character is based more than a bit on my real life. Dang cat, throwing up just where I'll step on it in the dark. She's sneaky, my Squeaky! Ha!

Nobody, not nobody, has a perfect life, and the characters we create shouldn't - aside from the imperfection of the main conflict of the story - have a perfect life either.

What fun is perfection?

What fun is having an unrelateable character?

You know what I love about the character Stephanie Plum - created by the amazing Janet Evanovich? She can barely make ends meet and often, the only thing in her refrigerator is peanut butter, bread, and olives so she can make herself a peanut butter and olive sandwich. Eeeew! She also, more days than not, has bad hair days. Woo-hoo for bad hair days. She struggles to make ends meet, she has a dysfunctional family, and . . . I can relate to the character.

I want to relate to the characters I read about . . . on some level.

So, what issues do your characters have? Are they too perfect? Do they suffer from the Barbie and Ken Syndrome? If so, perhaps you need to add some flaws to your characters.

Just saying . . .


Tamika: said...

I like to give my characters all the varying insecruties that I've encountered over the years. From being too thin, low self esteem, bad teeth, the list goes on!

Anything to infuse them with life!

Domey Malasarn said...

I'm drawn to people who I see as flawed, so most of the characters I create are flawed. I often struggle to make them more sympathetic, because quite often their flaw is majorly off putting. For awhile I worked to make them closer to perfect because I thought readers would like them more. But now I realize it's a matter of revealing the heart behind the flaws that will make my writing accessible.

I guess a common flaw among my characters is that they want something (like love) but they are too beaten down to go after it. So instead they are grumps who nobody wants to be around!

Scott said...

Tamika – I think when we infuse the flaws we have, along with those of our friends, co-workers, etc., we create characters that we and our readers can relate to on an intimate level.

Domey – I think if we can relate to a character, we can feel empathy toward the character. The more flaws the better. The more indecision about life . . . the better. Give me reality. Give me a character who – because of a bad hair day – rewashes and styles his hair three times. Give me a character who gets to work and realizes they have on one blue and one black sock. Give me somebody, anybody . . . to love. Ooops, channeled Queen there for a minute. In the end, I think our writing becomes more accessible when we create the flawed versus perfect characters.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Great post, Scott. I think it's important to know our character's flaws. This is why I don't understand why people expect my Christina in Cinders to be perfect???? I just don't get it when I read a review saying they hated Christina because she's selfish. Hmmm...

My character in Thirds has flaws. She has the flaws everyone puts UPON her, and then she has flaws that creep into her as the story progresses - namely anger and jealousy.

Scott said...

Michelle - if people want perfect characters and happy endings . . . let them go watch a Disney movie.

People are selfish. Characters can be selfish too . . . it makes them more human and, my word of the day, well, yesterday, relateable! I personally thought that you showed Christina's growth from selfish to caring throughout the novella. Yeah, she came across as selfish and a bit self-centered to begin with, but by the end of the novella she was accepting responsibility for her actions and was willing - at least in my mind - to take steps to change those actions and become a better person. She didn't have to marry Prince #2. She could have said no. Instead, she said yes, and I have a feeling she's making amends for her selfish behavior.

So, forget perfection, and give me the flaws.


CL said...

I love this post. I'm about to start my third novel and this year I'm doing NaNoWriMo. Still unpublished but keeping my fingers crossed.

My characters are not perfect, but I do have a problem making them suffer-- which everyone says is a must. So I'm going to work on that one. Keep writing!

Jennifer Hillier said...

Hooray for receding hairlines! Hooray for weight issues!

Flaws are wonderful. Great post.