Write With Me! Study Hall, Monday, December 28: Flawed Characters

Over on my Facebook page, my friends Qristina Cummings and Judy Goodman initiated an interesting conversation from the prompt of my posting an article on writing by Kurt Vonnegut from the Brain Pickings blog.

I thought I’d excerpt that conversation today to maybe gin up some juice for all our writing. I’m working on a character so flawed that she is a trial but also a joy to write; she is an amnesiac stroke victim who wandered out of a hospital and is now living in the streets in a tight little neighborhood business district in Chicago’s Northwest Side. So as I write she and we are sorting out what is her real personality and what is imposed on her by the effects of stroke. I won’t ruin the surprise, but she herself is amazed by what she discovers about her past self and her chances now to leave that life behind.

But Judy and Qristina have some intersting concerns and observations about writing characters who are flawed enough to be interesting. Herewith:

*Beginning of Facebook conversation*

Glenda Bailey-Mershon pinned to a board on Pinterest (which transferred to my Facebook page.)
December 25 at 4:57am · Pinterest ·

How to Write with Style: Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Keys to the Power of the Written Word

https://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/01/14/how-to-write-with-style-kurt-vonnegut/

Comments

Judy Goodman Hardest task: NOT to make perfect characters — even though it’s obvious that nonperfect characters seem to deserve to succeed more than the perfect ones.

Glenda Bailey-Mershon

Glenda Bailey-Mershon Well, everyone has to have some room for improvement. Who wants to read about perfect people, anyway. I love giving them flaws that are fixable–and then making sure they don’t fix them all.

Judy Goodman

Judy Goodman I’m noticing as I write this recent one that the main characters really do have flaws, but they still seem perfect to me. Maybe, I’m just too accepting. [Of course, maybe I’m just not willing to admit my own quirks are flaws! *)]

Qristina Zavačková Cummings It’s hard when writing about real people you looked up to and respected. My grandmother was perfect. Except she wasn’t… And it’s hard to keep that balance to keep her “real”.
Judy Goodman
Judy Goodman They are so often “perfect” to us despite their faults, I am always hesitant to write about family and old friends.

Glenda Bailey-Mershon

Glenda Bailey-Mershon To me, the small imperfections are what make people perfect–what gives them their flavor and vigor, their uniqueness.

Glenda Bailey-Mershon Would you two mind if I excerpted this conversation to my blog so that others can join in?

*End Facebook conversation*

I was interested to find this list of TV tropes concerning character flaws. We’ll all recognize them because we’ve been watching them most, if not all, our lives.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CharacterFlawIndex

What if you put the Crazy Cat Lady Together with the Crime Magnet?

What are the flaws in your character–the ones on the page, that is? Have you put them in situations that will force them to deal with their flaws?

 

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7 Comments

  1. I wrote this last night, but it’s worth posting here, as it seems to be a study in…something. : ) http://theunusedportion.blogspot.com/2015/12/wordle-231.html

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  2. Great to have a chance to see what you’re up to! Mama Pajama. I’m on tenterhooks waiting to see what the crisis is all about.

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  3. Bobbi

     /  December 28, 2015

    I just read the Vonnegut piece and your ensuing conversation. Immediately, two images shifted and then clicked together in my brain: Randi, my current heroine, whose story begins with a mysterious note addressed to, unsigned but presumably from a boy; and the first novel I completed, 25 to 30 years ago, romance genre, which came back from the publisher with a brief note that said my heroine was too weak. So maybe I’ll have Randi write the note as a beginning, assertive gesture of her interest in a boy. In summary, I do find that I’m writing only nice characters, and THAT MUST STOP! And then I’m really going to have fun and go at it in my first rewrite.
    But first I need to continue “fast writing” the first draft, focusing on the action. So Randi is having a sleepover with two friends, and we all know that two’s company and three’s a crowd, so I’m sure I can find some tension there.

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    • Glad the conversation was of some use to you, Roberta. It’s tempting to make at least our protagonist and her cohorts all nice. Most of us don’t have trouble conceiving an out-and-out villain. But, really, it’s the flaws in the good folks that give us their narrative arc: think Holden Caulfield, or Jay Gatsby, or Walter Mosely’s detective. They all have something to reach for. The detective wants his own peaceful corner of the universe where he can master gardening and cooking and being a community stalwart, but events keep drawing him back into tougher realms where it’s his knowledge of street life that works both for and against him. Holden, of course, wants to grow up quickly and experience the world, but he also wants to be home for dinner. Jay Gatsby wants to join Daisy’s well-mannered society, but he has to be ruthless as in his youthful days to help her, sacrificing himself. Every great character has feet of clay. Even minor characters can have amusing or endearing faults; think of the parson in Pride and Prejudice who has been calls “the most delicious boor in all Christendom.” (Sorry, I’ve forgotten by whom.) Or even Han Solo, who is so very vain to cover up his feeling that he doesn’t belong!

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  4. Bobbi

     /  December 29, 2015

    What I meant by ” weak” and “nice” characters is really “passive”. I’ve decided she won’t initiate — the note is too central to so many other things — but will respond assertively. The third party hasn’t arrived, but already there’s unexpected tension between the two I had planned to get along best—that darn girl keeps doing that to me.

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