WoW: Creating Flawed Characters

photobucket image by kpryma

Flawed characters?

Yup. You read that right. If we want to produce marketable stories, our characters have to be imperfect people—just like us.

OK, you already knew that, right? Well, I can be kinda slow to catch on to things. I didn’t learn this lesson until I received my first set of Revision Notes.

When my agent sent me her notes not long after offering me representation, she noted several weaknesses in my story. One area I needed to address in my rewrite was that of characterization.

My heroine was flawed. Too flawed. She was on “an emotional roller coaster” and at times became “weak and whiny and terribly unlikable.” Yikes!

My hero, on the other hand, was “almost too perfect.” He was easy to love—too easy. I’d unwittingly left little room for him to grow as a character. Not only that, but there was no reason for the heroine to resist her attraction to him. Everyone loved him, so why wouldn’t she?

In reshaping my characters, I had to find a middle ground. They needed to be likable but have some rough edges.  Following are some of the steps I took that helped me deepen my characters as I worked on my rewrite.

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•Get to know your characters

What are their backstories?

What are their unique characteristics?

What traits do they have that get them in trouble?

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•Identify your characters’ goals and motivations

What do they want to achieve?

Why are their goals important to them?

What are they willing to do to reach their goals?

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•Cause the reader to care about your characters

Let the reader into their thoughts

Reveal their fears and insecurities

Show how they’ve been hurt in the past

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When my hero developed into a man who’d been deeply hurt by his late wife, carried a wagonload of guilt, and had suffered a great loss, he no longer came across as having his life all together and became more sympathetic. Giving him the habit of putting his foot in his mouth, especially when dealing with the heroine, made him someone a reader can relate to. After all, haven’t we all done the same thing more times than we want to remember?

Clarifying what my heroine wanted and intensifying her desire to achieve her goal transformed her into a strong woman who knows her own mind. Using internal monologue to show what leads her to take action helps her come across as a reasonable woman rather than one at the mercy of her emotions.

• • • • •

I wanna know . . .

How do you go about developing a character?

What are some of the flaws you’ve given your characters?

Have you ever had a character deemed too perfect or too flawed?

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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3 Responses to WoW: Creating Flawed Characters

  1. I tend to make my characters too flawed too. One thing that helped me was taking Camy Tang’s synopsis class and forcing myself to summarize the characters’ spiritual arc from start to finish. It forced me to think through those way they’re flawed but also think through how they can change by the end of the story.

  2. I suppose they are combos or amalgoms with their own unique quirks, ticks and voice. I hear them before I see them and then I let it play out … I also don’t begin a story until I have the characterizations of all the mc’s/and supporting characters.

    Good questions. Glad you found the middle ground. 🙂

  3. I had a bad habit of making my characters too perfect. Granted that I started writing fiction when I was a kid and things were black and white, but my heroes had no flaws, and my villains were all totally bad. After a decade or so I went back, read my old stories, and thought “man — these guys are BORING”.

    It was fairly easy to correct once I started using character lists. My characters now have flaws large and small: The male lead from “Storm Chaser” is scarred by a childhood trauma that makes him mistrustful of strangers or the media, and the female lead is stubborn and secretive about her personal life. And those are the *good* guys.

    As far as small flaws, one character in my newest novel is a macho firefighter — who’s terrified of spiders. Just like me.

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