Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What are Your Character's Faults?

One of the things I've thought a lot about since returning from SCBWI last weekend, is creating interesting characters.

In Libba Bray's keynote speech she told us to be careful of writing shallow characters. Imperfections are what make people interesting. Several of the other speakers touched on this too, and I think it's very applicable to my writing (and hopefully yours too).

I try not to write characters that are too good. They don't always obey their parents or do their homework or treat each other with respect. But I struggle with it sometimes. I have to avoid the temptation to let the good people always do good things and the bad people always do bad things, because in real life people aren't good or bad, they're just people.

My favorite books include villains who could almost be heroes or heroes that are just a few steps away from being villains. I like reading about people who are flawed. Sydney Carton (from Dickens', A Tale Of Two Cities) and Emma Woodhouse (From Jane Austen's, Emma) are two of my favorite characters ever, probably because both of them are far from perfect.

Do your heroes have defects? Do your villains have redemptive qualities? Or are they too good or too bad?

33 comments:

Susan R. Mills said...

I struggle more with giving my villains good qualities than with giving my heroes defects. It's something I'm working on, but it's hard.

Elana Johnson said...

I think it's important to portray characters as HUMAN. And we all have flaws. We all make good decisions and bad ones. We all have a little inner demon and a little inner angel. I think what's important, is showing how a person came to be where they are. That helps me like them more, even if they're bad or flawed.

Abby Annis said...

What if your characters aren't human? ;)

This is something I struggle with, especially when it comes to my villains. I'm working on it. Great post!

Anissa said...

I think this is so key. I've been working on beefing up my villains and balancing out everyone else. Great post!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

My characters are currently naughty little children, so they definitely have their faults, but they come to see the light. :-)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I've recently had to tone down a character's harsh side...had to show her vulnerable side, too.

T. Anne said...

My villain in my new YA is an enigma. He's is all bad and keeps getting worse. My MC has no clue who is busily tormenting her. To me it's half the fun.

Thomas Taylor said...

My villain is a hero gone bad. Somehow that makes him worse.

Nicole said...

Making your characters more human with strengths and weaknesses allows the reader to connect better to the story. I love stories where I end up sympathizing for the villain. In a twisted way it's gratifying to see imperfections become assets.

Kelly Lyman said...

Great post. This is something that I've been trying to revise in my WIP. My MC, although not perfect, didn't really have a "flaw" someone could identify with...I didn't write one. She had them in my mind, but it wasn't coming out on the pages. Emma- good example.

Belle said...

I have a tendency to make my good characters too good - it's something I definitely have to watch out for. My villains usually have a good streak to them too, though!

Nicole Ducleroir said...

I'm a character-driven writer, by nature. I see everyone as flawed in life, everyone struggling. Even the most accomplished, successful people battle their demons. I love delving into a character and showcasing both her talents and her faults -- whether she's my hero or my villian. Now, if I could just feel as comfortable designing my plots! :P

Matthew Delman said...

If I've done right, my villain will come across as a man in deep emotional pain who was led down a dark path in the years after the event that caused him pain. He's a good man otherwise, just one that's gone insane with grief.

My heroine is the one standing in the way of his success with his goals. And she has her own demons to suss out as well.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

good reminder. I find it the toughest part of writing is delving into the emotions of a scene and trying to be real about how my character would react vs. how I think they should.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Natalie, just added you to my blog list. That way I can keep better track of you. :) I love this line: "...in real life people aren't good or bad, they're just people." Precisely! How would our writing change if we remembered that? I think it would grow in depth and truth. A good goal to have, I think.

Bane of Anubis said...

For my MG, they're definitely a bit more black and white, though the protag and main villain flip course halfway through.

Most of my characters trend toward darkness and I definitely don't have any overly wholesome protags.

Sandy Shin said...

Many of my heroine's defects are based on my own bad habits -- not all of them, but some. Major defects that, if the story were slightly different, she could have been herself the villain. I don't find it difficult to do so (the imagining part, not the execution).

However, keeping my villains a step from heroes is much more difficult. I sympathize with them and with the choices they're forced to make, but I'm hard-pressed to make them sympathetic.

I used to hate Emma when I first read it a few years ago in high school, to the point where it instantly became one of my least favorite Jane Austen's books, despite my crush on Mr. Knightley. However, now, re-reading it for an English course, I am warming up to her a whole lot more, even coming to like her.

I think the shift of preference from black-and-white to nuanced characters comes with growing up; maybe I'm just terribly late. :)

Jen said...

I struggle with my MC being too nice, I've noticed the problem and have been working hard to correct her!!!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

My first antagonist was so black. Then I interviewed him one-on-one and found out more about where he came from, why he was the way he was. I think it helped. And as for the protagonist, you need to give them flaws but still make them likeable so the reader wants to stick with them. So much to think about.

L.T. Elliot said...

My husband and I went to a movie recently and he told me afterward, "Your favorite heroes (characters) are always flawed. Did you know that?"

Oh yeah. I know it. Clint Johnson once said, "We admire people for their strengths but we love them for their flaws." And boy do I.

Jemi Fraser said...

I have to watch myself from making them too good as well. My male MC is overly protective, lusts for vengeance & has a temper. The female MC doesn't trust easily, takes too many silly risks & loses her temper too. Makes for fun writing :)

Jessica said...

My heroes/heroines always have imperfections, but I could work on making my villains rounder. Thanks for the reminder!

Sarah Skilton said...

I'm afraid I sometimes err on the other side and make my heroines a bit tougher to love, which is something I need to work on.

Aubrie said...

I'm afriad if I give my heros too many defects, readers won't like them! It's a tough line to balance on. This post helps, though!

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

I usually have very flawed heroes and heroines. I had to work harder on making my villians have redeeming qualities.

BTW, you have a little gift over at my blog today. :)

Hardygirl said...

It can be so tricky to create flawed characters--especially when you are in love with them. Great post!

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Erica said...

I think the flawed ones are more relateable. It is hard to pick the right ones though, it needs to flow. My MC smokes - she's trying to quit the whole time.

Now the baddies? They need more work!

Girl with One Eye said...

Oh all kinds of green with envy for you NYC SCBWI attendees. West coast will wait for summer. MC flaws, yes she lets the world around her dictate her actions but by the end of the book she starts to overcome it. Villains have redeeming qualities maybe one or two. Something for sure I will be thinking about as I write.

VR Barkowski said...

As Elana says, none of us is perfect. Characters have to be flawed to be real. As long as we can get our readers to empathize, we can make characters as dark as we like. Although, honestly, I don't want to write about Hannibal Lecter. :)

Christine Danek said...

Great post. I try my best to write flaws in my characters. I am curretnly trying to beef some up. Some of my characters are not human though so does this still apply?

Linda Kage said...

Thank you for giving me something to think about. Hmm. I prbably DO lean more toward good is good and bad is bad. That's something I need to work on. Thanks again.

B.J. Anderson said...

I love this post. And I love to mess with my characters. I like to make sure they're full of defects--both protagonists and antagonists. ;) Great post!

Dawn Simon said...

It's true. Characters, like real people, should be three-dimensional. I especially like it when I see a "bad" character's good side, that he or she isn't just a cartoon.