Monday, July 22, 2013

Writing Flawed Characters

One of the most important parts of writing is character development.  But this is also one of the most challenging aspect of writing for many writers (including me).  Too many writers get into Mary Sue characters (for more information regarding this, see here ... for those who don't want to click, basically a "perfect" character or a stand-in for the author, often without flaws or in some other way idealized).  Bella from the Twilight series is often criticized as a Mary Sue, and for good reason.  There is no character development in Bella.

Writing flawed characters is actually much more fun than writing Mary Sues, trust me.  When I used to play roleplaying games, the characters I remember the most were the ones that were most unlike me, those that I had to stretch to play.  It was fun being someone completely different.  Writing flawed characters is just the same.  Mary Sues are boring to read and to write.

Let's take Lizzy, my protagonist from The Horror at Palmwich.  I will stay away from spoilers if you haven't read the book (hint: you can buy it here), but I will talk a little about some of her choices in general terms.  Be cautioned!

Lizzy is very definitely not me, in any way shape or form.  She's not even really my opposite, either.  But she is deeply flawed.  She desires to be--and sees herself to be--this great journalist, but she really isn't.  Watch how her voices changes throughout the story.  Her voice in the introduction to the "manuscript" (where she had the leisure to agonize over every word and make it perfect) is very different than the voice in the rest of the "manuscript" (something she probably did not want to read more than she had to, not wanting to re-live it).  She's more casual in the "manuscript" and much more formal in the introduction.  There was a reason for it.

Some of the choices Lizzy makes are also important.  Many of them seem irrational or misguided.  But what would you do if confronted with what she had to go through?  Would you act rationally?  She wanted to investigate this "hot story" but it got too personal, and then too scary, and she could no longer be the objective journalist.

When I wrote Lizzy, I was coming at her decisions and choices from a perspective that was not mine.  I had to step back and think not, "What would I do?" but "What would Lizzy do?" and that was difficult.  But it was also fun.  Lizzy was definitely a stretch and a learning experience for me.

What do you think?  Do you like reading Mary Sue characters so that you can insert yourself into the character, or do you want to read about someone else?

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