Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Come Over to the Dark Side...We've Got Cookies!*

Everyone has a dark side; without it we wouldn't be human. No one is good all the time and our characters shouldn't be either.

Old-time melodramas were written with the purer than pure heroine, the wickeder than wicked villain and the braver than brave hero. Audiences loved them because they knew from the beginning that all would end well. It was good fun for Ma and Pa Pioneer and their gaggle of children to attend a performance with such easily defined characters and afforded a relaxing break from the harsh rigors of pioneer life. But ultimately, wouldn't it have been a little boring?

I love books (or plays or movies) that portray people as far more complicated creatures. The sweetest girl in the world is capable of being jealous. The most loathsome villain might spoil his cat. All of us experience a range of emotions.

When I write I try to keep in mind that every character has a flaw. Maybe it's vanity, or a tendency to over-indulge at the table; it might be a too-active imagination; it could be as potentially disastrous as jealousy, voracious ambition or money-lust. A pretty face does not necesarily mean a pretty personality any more than an ugly face denotes a villain.

Every story must have an ending but I enjoy writing (and reading) endings that are logical, but surprising. I love to sympathize with all the characters, not just the ones on the side of the angels. The dark side of characters is the home to all their complexities and their closely-held secrets. It's the hidden center of the chocolate and worthy of exploration.

I love my characters all the more because they are flawed. Bless them, they can't help being the way they are, they're only human! How about you? Do you write characters with a few bumps?

*Thanks to my daughter, Patricia, for the title. This is a favorite saying among her friends at school.


  1. Elspeth,
    First, please compliment your daughter for me - I love the title of your post! As far as "bumpy" characters, they're my favorite kind! I think we identify with flawed characters because we, too, are flawed. Also, I think flawed characters make for much more interesting stories. It's far too simple to just have a hero and a villain, with the other characters either being all good (on the side of the hero) or all bad (the villain's henchfolk). I much prefer richer stories where it's not that simple. For instance, I like "Aunt" Peg Turnbull, a main character in Laurien Berenson's Melanie Travis series (which I recommend for cozy mystery lovers). She's brash, sometimes rude, pushy, opinionated and manipulative. Yet, she's also brave, kindhearted, absolutely devoted to her family and passionate about loving care for dogs (she's a Standard Poodle breeder). I don't always like what she does, but she's one of the most interesting characters in the seriers.

    When I write, I like to make my characters multidimensional. It's sometimes hard, because I have personal feelings about the characters, so there's a temptation to make them out to be "good" or "bad." In the end, though, the best characters are the ones that aren't easy to categorize.

  2. You had me at cookies.

    Sometimes I give my protagonist too many flaws. Then I spend a lot of time in revisions rehabilitating him/her. I guess I like too many flaws.

  3. I'm like Alan in that I'm a sucker for flaws. I think I'm walking a thin line sometimes...I don't want anyone to *dislike* my protagonist, after all. But they're so much more fun when they have issues! :)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  4. I definitely believe in character flaws. Flawless characters are not interesting. One of the things I was very conscious of while writing Ordinary World was revealing flaws in the male characters (I won't say which ones!) who come off really awesome in this novel. I didn't want them to all be saints. And Andi, of course, has a whole new bowl of flaws that she grapples with.

    In the current manuscript, our protag's flaw is revealed in that she is the lens to everyone's lives but her own.

  5. All of my characters are flawed...what I need to come up with is a unique way for them to be flawed. Something out of the ordinary!

  6. Nice points, Elspeth, particularly about making the villain have a nice redeeming quality. I’m gonna have to look at that for my WIP. I’m thinking it would be pretty easy to write in a cat for a scene or two. Just makes for more interesting characters.

    Best Regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  7. What great subject matter for a post, and how well you've written this. Plus, that title!

    I always say...I keep waiting to meet that one perfect somebody that everyone's striving to be. You know, that person that doesn't have flaws? But I won't find them, they don't exist. How boring to write people that aren't real. Even bad guys have feelings, even bad guys have a soft spot for someone or something besides themselves. I know a horrible woman, (I mean awful horrible), and she's kind to animals.

  8. Love the cookies!

    I try to give my characters flaws - especially the protagonist. Sometimes I think I don't give them enough. I do better at giving my villains redeeming qualities, I think.

    In real life I tend to see the good and overlook flaws. It's great in real life but not so much for a fiction writer. I'm trying to balance things out.

    Wonderful post.

  9. Margot; I shall pass the message along to my daughter- thanks! I agree the best characters aren't easy to categorize.

    Alan; I knew the cookies would work. Aha!

    Elisa; I love the sound of your new protagonist - we share the same flaw.

    Stephanie; I don't think there are unique flaws, but certainly different facets.

    Galen; Yes! Give the villain a cat! A cat with an unbearably cute name like Mr. Whiskers!

    Elizabeth; Thanks for the kind words. It's true - perfect people don't exist. (except for me,of course) hahaha

    Carol; Good for you. I tend to see the worse in people before I see the best. I'm a true denizen of the 'dark side'. (and the cookies are great, by the way)

  10. Elizabeth; Sorry, skipped you before! I agree protagonists with issues are fun...and easier to write. How boring to have a perfect main character!

  11. Hey, watch it! I named my first son Mr. Whiskers.

  12. Darth Vader? Cookies? I'm in!!!

    Perfect people are so boring. And writing about the flaws and the villains is so much fun :)

  13. Brilliant title. You daughter takes after you.
    And yes, nothing more boring than a perfect main character - almost want to make you throw up sometimes. I much prefer the ones with small and big flaws.

  14. If your protagonist doesn't have any flaws, then there's really no way for them to grow. And what good is a story with no character growth?

  15. Espeth, please drop by my blog for today (Thursday) when you have a chance. I passed on another award to worthy bloggers, and you're on my list.

  16. Great blog and title!
    I think you're right, characters need a flaw.
    Thinking about my WIP, each of my characters has some kind of flaw. In some of them, it's a big flaw, in others it's a subtle one.

  17. Jemi; You can't go wrong with Darth Vader and cookies!

    Rayna; Thank you for your kind words! You're right, perfect main characters are exceedingly dull.

    W; Exactly! Thanks for dropping by!

    Patricia; Thank you. I'm honored.

    Carolyn; Thanks! And good for you. I'm sure your WIP is great.


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