Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Creating Realistic and Flawed Characters

I read this statement in a recent review of the 3L Publishing book Vengeance is Now, which to paraphrase went something like this: strictly bad and good characters are boring. Author Scott D. Roberts and I have discussed flawed characters practically from the first time we met each other. We both have a propensity to enjoy the flaws the most -- and it's those flaws that prevent boring. In real life do you know anyone who is perfectly "white" or perfectly "black"? I know people who are overall good people, and I know people who I question their morals and ethics. Truth is most of us have our good points and our "messier" points. So when you're writing a novel or a story, it's always more interesting and provocative to make characters "gray" and then fill in the greater or lesser color of white or black.

Let me give an example: In my forthcoming novel Body in the Trunk, I've written the ex-husband as a real jerk. Yet our heroine married this man. In writing the situation, I show how the husband mistreats his wife, but in that depiction I create what are called "story layers" and delve into short snippets of why she fell for him in the first place. Without writing that "layer" in the story, the husband comes across as merely "black" and the reader would find it difficult to understand why this nice and sweet woman would have married such a jerk. If you give a character absolutely no redeeming value then the audience (a) doesn't like the character at all and (b) cannot understand the relationship. In real life when you hear married couples are divorcing you always have to remember that while the love fell apart they did at one point love each other enough to marry.

The trick is to remember each character's humanity. In writing a good character, he or she will not be perfect. To make a hero a flat good guy or girl is more like writing a comic book character like Superman. Strictly good or strictly bad is one dimensional. Always try to keep your characters human. In doing so you will create multi-dimensional characters that are interesting. And the upshot: reviewers won't call your material "boring".

Do you need a book coach? My company 3L Publishing provides book coaching for all genres. Looking for overall advice on a manuscript or page-by-page coaching, send an email to info@3LPublishing.com or call 916-300-8012.

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