Gotta Love Her, Warts and All

Fiction is SO not real life.

In real life, I tend to see the good in people. It's what I expect to see. I don't go searching for their faults. Each flaw comes out over time, but unless it's something that makes me crazy, I don't give it much weight. In fact, I usually never think about it unless someone else says something about a particular quirk.

This is a godawful trait for a fiction writer.

I don't have a problem giving my protagonist and other characters flaws. My problem is thinking what these flaws could be that will still keep them likeable enough to read about.

Big faults are easy enough. One of my protagonists is a jewel thief and is hellbent on revenge. Another has killed. I could go on.

It's the little things that make you crazy about people that make me pull out my hair over my characters.

When I read a book or watch a movie, I look for character flaws. Unless I find something that would make me crazy in real life, I don't see them. If I can't spot them in the work of others, how can I create them in my own?

The upside of this is that my antagonists are rarely all evil. All have had at least a few redeeming qualities.

Is there a master character flaw list someplace? Maybe a mix and match, like pick one from columns A and C, and two from column B?

Can any of you point me in the right direction?

I need help.


My litmus test is that if I find the character too irritating then they probably are! I either eliminate some of the flaws or eliminate the character. I think the trick is to be realistic. Some people really are good. It's nice that you see the good in people first; I'm of the opposite school!

Carol Kilgore said…
It's probably easier for you to write a more rounded character than it is for me. It's really hard for me to think of flaws for individuals. A couple would be easier because it's the tiny daily things that would bother each of them.
Laura Eno said…
That's so tough to do. They need flaws to be believable, but I'm like you - I don't see them in others. I've never been a people-watcher either.
Carol Kilgore said…
I'm a people watcher, but I don't automatically translate visible behaviors to character flaws. The exception, for me, is impatience. But I can't have every character be impatient.
Helen Ginger said…
Sounds to me like you're already heading in the right direction. Even the bad guy, the antagonist, needs to have a little something that's good or redeeming. Otherwise, he or she becomes just a caricature. On the opposite end, the protagonist needs something that keeps him from being perfect.

Straight From Hel
Psychology books are a good resource. They've made me aware of what character traits and the behaviors from those traits are bad, but also what can be good (a codependent caregiver, for example).

I believe the more layered our characters, the more interesting, because that's the way it is in real life.
Carol Kilgore said…
Helen - Maybe I am moving in the right direction since I recognize this as a weak point. Now I have to fix it.

Conda - Thanks for visiting. Great idea!I have a couple of psychology books on my shelf that I usually only open when I'm looking for something specific. Sometimes I'm a little slow - LOL. Thanks for the nudge.
Susan Oleksiw said…
I had to go to the mall this afternoon to pick up a gift card and while I was there I watched about five individuals who would make great characters in my next book--the man who didn't want to buy a card, he just wanted attention, so every part of the conversation circled back onto his problem of not being able to get where he wanted to go to see the event he was there to buy tickets for; then there was the man who kept lurching into people and going to great lengths to apologize, and the three teens who who couldn't walk a straight line because they kept turning around to look at who had passed them. It's not the obvious flaws, it's the humanness of them that makes them interesting.

Susan Oleksiw
Terry Odell said…
I like to think of characters as being like artichokes--you have to keep peeling away the layers. Some bits are positive, others less so, but you don't want cardboard characters. They should all have a nice blend. Some character might have a stubborn streak, or maybe he's self-centered, or has picky eating habits, or doesn't care about his clothes -- start small, and then see how you can use them to play off the other characters. You'll probably want to use the flaws of one character to create your conflict.
Carol Kilgore said…
Susan - eeeww about the lurching man. But I see what you mean about the humanness. I think I do that. Maybe I need more.

Terry - Great tips. Thank you!