Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Depth of Character

I'm wondering, as a writer and reader, what makes characters more interesting?

I know as a reader, I don't want to read characters who are perfect. I like to read flawed and conflicted characters. The more tortured the better, but not to the point of unbelievable. I mean, if you think about yourself, you're not perfect - nobody is. So what are your flaws as a human being? Would those flaws be interesting additions to a character? Obviously those things make characters seem more realistic and relatable.

As a writer, you love your characters and it's so tempting to make them perfect, superhuman. I'm working on flawing up my characters. They're not perfect. They're confused and forced into relating uncomfortably with each other, then dealing with crises. Fun, huh?!

So what are your flaws as a human being? Would those flaws be interesting additions to a character? (time out to share: one of my biggest flaws is that I have no patience - either to wait for things I'm anticipating, or sometimes I lack patience with other people.)

As a writer, what kinds of flaws do you like to write into your characters?

As a reader, what kinds of flaws do you like to read in characters?

9 comments:

alana said...

You are spot on. I’m not a writer, but as a reader I hate when characters are too perfect (or luck always works in their favor). A perfect example is my love for Snape in Harry Potter. I felt like her was one of the only characters that was really fleshed out. I also hate how relationships are very one dimensional in a lot of books (and why does every woman have to be a slut or a virgin?). Love triangles go on for ages or they bond for life instinctively. That kind of crap.

My flaw is that I’m always saying things that are better left unsaid. I don’t really believe in TMI. And I’m really sarcastic so a lot of people don’t get my humor or realize that I’m actually making fun of them (I know it’s mean of me).

Terri Tiffany said...

My male character like you is low on patience. But I really must make some more flaws in hiim!

Elizabeth Bradley said...

When you say perfect, do you mean too one dimensional? I am amazed by how many best selling novels are chock full of one-dimensional protagonists.

Bruce Coltin said...

I don't think you have to write the flaws in. I think the flaws are waiting there to be discovered by the writer. Knowing our own creations is harder than we think.

Terresa said...

These are all great thoughts. I'm working on giving the characters in my WIP more depth so they are multi-dimensional. This has given me food for thought. Thank you.

PS: How *do* you find time to write? Curious minds want to know. I'm currently suffering from tired-mama-lack-of-sleep-syndrome trying to write and it's almost killing me!

giddymomof6 said...

I'm so with you on this one--I believe characters MUSt have flaws. My worst fault is I am always saying too much. My quick wit gets the best of me and I say things without thinking it through first--and I'm always getting in trouble for it. LOL!

Jenni

Cheryl said...

I've been thinking about this question off and on all day. One of my favorite characters is Emma Wodehouse - arrogant, judgmental, prejudiced, a snob, a know it all, and yet totally endearing because she's so often wrong and is humbled in the process of the story. Her flaws propel the story along and make her more interesting.

But as for my own flaws...so many...impatient as well, moody, can be self absorbed, a worrywart, etc...don't know if any of these'll make an interesting character flaw though.

But I agree with Bruce. Flaws strike me as something hard to put into a character. If he or she is interesting, there has to be a flaw somewhere. Otherwise they wouldn't be interesting. Like Dickens's heroes or heroines. So perfect, so boring. If the characters around them weren't so colorful and bad the stories wouldn't work.

Embee said...

Alana - I agree, sometimes characters are too black and white but people aren't really like that. And I like Snape too - he's sympathetic because of everything he's endured, even though he's still so cranky.

Terresa - I don't know where I find time to write. I'm not the most organized person in the world, but I guess I have some modicum of self-discipline. I cram the writing in wherever there's a free hour or so. The rest of the time the story is swirling around in my head trying to get out.

Cheryl - One of my favorite characters in a novel is Cathy Trask in East of Eden because she is so complex. And if anyone is flawed, it's that woman. She has major flaws!

Thanks everyone for your input! I love hearing everyone's opinions!!

Thijs said...

I think the thing that makes a flaw interesting, is that somewhere there is a reason for the character to have that particular flaw, maybe unknown and mostly unconscious to him or herself. It is this depth that makes him or her very believable.
Sort of like (no offense intended!) Alana's humour is sarcastic as a coping- or self defense mechanism, and Terri's male character is for example low on patience, because he thinks his way is the best way of doing things and by now, he already has heard every (non functional alternative) there is to hear. (also one of my own character flaws!) :)