“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.
I’m impressed with all the book that you’ve read and talk about in this story.
Thank you, Claire. I take pleasure in sharing the joy I get from reading books, especially the ones that aren’t always widely publicized. I’m a true BOOK LOVER.
Book Lover, your article makes me want to put historical fiction on hold so I can create some really dicy, flawed characters. Reckless abandon awaits! Or maybe, truth will be stranger than fiction…
Oops. Meant “creative nonfiction” not “historical fiction” in above comment. Makes more sense now, doesn’t it?
Kelly, I don’t think it matters if you characterize your work as creative nonfiction or historical fiction. The publishers and/or book sellers will categorize your story in the best way to maximize sales. Keep writing. Good luck.
The flaws very often take one dimensional characters and make them into more interesting two dimensional people. Good thing to remember.
How true. The characters’ flaws help move the stories along.
It’s the flaws that make anything interesting, and that’s especially true when it comes to characters. Developing the characters with and around these flaws, or have the character conquer their demons, is what makes their story interesting to create, and hopefully, read.
I’ve always enjoyed the unusual characters in my reading. My characters’ imperfections are an integral part of the stories I write.
You almost lost me in the beginning but I kept on reading. Reread the beginning and then I understood the title of the piece.
Thank you for rereading my blog.