“If you see the world in black and white, you’re missing important grey matter.” –Jack Fyock
The most compelling stories involve characters who are flawed morally, physically, socially, or even mentally. For example in the novel, Deserves to Die by Lisa Jackson, a twice divorced, single pregnant detective must solve the murder of a woman whose ring finger was severed.
In Kimberly White’s Acquisitions, a pharmaceutical rep files a sexual harassment suit against her boss but falls in love and has sex with the company attorney investigating her claim.
Susan Kay’s Phantom is a powerful retelling of the story of the well-known main character Erik, in Phantom of the Opera, who was born horribly disfigured to a vain, spoiled Catholic widow. This gripping novel begins with her point of view then continues with the point of view of each significant person in the phantom’s life. When finally Erik’s point of view is told, the reader feels sympathy for the man who survived a life of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse.
With Every Drop of Blood, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier, is a novel of the civil war. When Johnny, a white southern teenager, is talked into delivering supplies to Rebel troops, he agrees in order to support his widowed mother and siblings. Johnny is captured by Cush, a Yankee runaway slave about Johnny’s age. Each has been taught to hate the enemy, but the interaction between the two young men is compelling.
In Karen Slaughter’s Fallen, police officer Faith Mitchell arrives at her mother’s house to find the door open, a dead man on the floor, another man she kills, her young daughter hidden away, and her mother missing. To prove her innocence in the killing, Mitchell must slip away to find her mother and solve this bizarre case.
To Have and to Kill is part of Mary Jane Clark’s wedding cake series. Piper Donovan, recovering from a broken engagement, returns home to help with her mom’s wedding cake business. Her mom’s macular degeneration, a friend’s murder, and a new love interest all impact Piper.
Lisa Genova’s Still Alice tells the story of Alice, a professor who develops Alzheimer’s. The story became the movie, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
Now, look at your stories. Are all your characters in perfect physical shape? They’re boring unless they have a limp, a stutter, a facial scar, or some other imperfection. Are they polite at all times without a show of temperament? Are your antagonists all bad, or do they stop to open a door for the handicapped? Do they drop coins in the hat of the beggar on the street? Does your antagonist kill indiscriminately or does she only select victims who deserve to die? Do your characters have names that reveal a little about their personality or are you using the easy Dick and Jane names? Are your characters always living a life of luxury or is the middle class or the poor a part of some of your stories.
Mix it up! Add some flavor to your stories by including good and bad in protagonists, antagonists, and some of your minor characters. Your stories will be more compelling and interesting.