Sunday, January 12, 2014

Writing Class: Fatal Flaw in Your Characters

My husband once looked up from a Stephen King book with a horrified expression and said, "He spent the last ten pages telling me about this character, who she is, where she's from, what her life is like—and then he killed her."

I recalled that memory not precisely because of the character getting literally killed in the story. It's the fact that my husband had cared enough about the character to be affected by her sudden demise. What kind of character would you care enough about that if something horrible happens to them, you have to somehow take a moment to cope?

I haven't taken formal writing classes but I've read enough books to know that the characters who stick with you long after you've read the book are characters with rich layers to them—their history, their strengths, their vulnerabilities, their secret thoughts, their struggles.

It's easy to create a character who hits all the marks but perfection is so one-dimensional.

Characters need to be relatable so you need them to be human and to be human is to flawed.

I attached a link to a great article in Romance University on How Fatal Should Flaws Be from a writing class with Laurie Schnebly Campbell.

It talks about making your character suffer.

Give him/her something to struggle with—a vulnerability that is ingrained, and that manifests in various parts of the story, something that has a sway on their decisions and actions.

Merely giving your character the fear of china dolls that would somehow never come up in the story is interesting but pointless.

If your character can't handle clutter or disorder, for example, she would have issues with people in her life who just drop in or call our out of the blue—may it be a parent who walks in and out of her life through revolving doors, or a close friend who keeps pushing her to throw caution to the wind and live a little, or a love interest who likes to live day by day, with no plans or prohibitions.

This flaw may have a small impact on the grand plot, or may be the very leg it stands on—it's really up to you—but the point is that it gives your character more dimension and in turn, provides you with more meat for sub-plots and character development.

To be perfectly honest, I don't start out writing by building up a character. It's very rare for me to do that.

I usually write names first because then I start to think of them that way.

Then I write down dialogs they somehow manage to have in my head and then I get to know my character's personality that way. When I start hearing their voice (not literally, hehe) and what they say and how they say it, I start to detect their character make-up and from there it occurs to me what they're strong at and what makes them vulnerable.

It's an odd way to build a character but I've found that it works with me.

There's no perfect formula—writing is an art form, after all—and creativity is tapped differently with every individual.

The point is, when you've gotten started, think about your characters as people. And because they're people, they're not going to perfect.

Poke away at them, leave them with some scars, turn their world upside down—the list is endless.


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