Monday, February 13, 2012

Character Flaws

Rosslyn Elliot has written a great post about character flaws over at Rachelle Gardner's blog. She discusses the difference between a cosmetic flaw that only affects the protagonist (say, insecurity) and a real flaw (to continue with the same example, perhaps the tendancy towards jealousy that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with insecurity).

It made me realise a flaw with one of my own works-in-progress. My main character, Becky, was recruited for a dangerous secret job shortly after leaving college. Her friends know she has a dangerous job, but they don't know what it is. And because she can't talk to them about her job, and because her job is extremely demanding, she doesn't talk to them very much. She doesn't have much to talk about anymore - apart from her job.

But Becky blames her friends rather than herself for this. When friends that she hasn't contacted for a year don't include her in plans, she is angry. Why don't they understand that she's just too busy to see them? It takes someone else to point out that they're not being unreasonable - they're responding to her behaviour.

In the most recent draft, I left that theme there. But now I see that it's worth examining it more closely. What does this say about Becky? What trait does it reveal?

I think it reveals selfishness. She assumes that she is right. She assumes that the world ought to organise itself around her. And she assumes that if she doesn't see her friends, it's because they're too lazy or rude to contact her. She doesn't see that friendship is a two-way street, and she doesn't see that she's expecting her friends to be understanding about a situation that they are not fully aware of.

But mostly, she's the only person who suffers from this. I'm sure her friends are sorry to lose her, but Becky is our point-of-view character, so we only see her suffering for it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have a cosmetic flaw.

This is something I can examine. If Becky is self-absorbed, there are other ways that this can come out. It's very likely to come out at work, which is where we see her most often.

And it can only result in a better novel.

What about you guys? How do you find writing flawed characters? Hard, easy, fun?

9 comments:

  1. Now I am intrigued! What is it that Becky does that's so dangerous it has to be kept secret from all and sunder!??!?!

    I love writing flawed characters. The danger for me is whether others who may read my stories will see the flaws as understandable, lovable, irritating and/or downright annoying! Yikes!

    Take care
    x

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    1. She hunts fairies, the existence of which has to be kept secret from the world at large, because fairies are really mean :)

      I have the same concern, Kitty. At what point does a character stop being interestingly, intruigingly flawed and become an out-and-out pain in the face? I'm walking very close to the edge with the main character of my new book. Even I'm not sure how much I like her now!

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  2. I've been told I give my characters too many flaws! :) I quite enjoy flawed characters.

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    1. I think that may be a fair point about Mattie, to be honest, but I actually liked her more for it! It made her much more interesting than the uber-nice girls who populate way too much women's fiction!

      That said, Willow was basically a really nice person, and she was still interesting. I think it is all in the execution.

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  3. Flawed characters can be hard to balance, but they're definitely the most interesting.

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    1. I agree, Sarah. Hannibal Lecter is always the example I use - he eats people, but wow is he compelling!

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  4. Flaws make are characters three dimensional and more believable. Of course, I struggle to show them - I want my protagonists to be perfect. But it is worth the effort.

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    1. I'm the same Ellie, I want my main characters to be the readers' best friend. I have found myself rceating some paper-thin and boring characters as a result, so I agree that the effort of developing flaws is worth it.

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  5. With me, my protagonists live in a world of secrets, so one of the drawbacks for that is keeping these secrets from the people in their lives. For one character, that's cost him a lot, which I'll flesh out in future books. For another, her relationship with her mother is strained.

    I think I was much more overt about writing flaws with my antagonists, who, in each case, respond to grief not by trying to move on and find something positive to do, but by giving in to their worst possible instincts.

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