Do you enjoy writing fiction?
One of the joys of fiction is spending time with people who do things you’d never do, are way braver than you, and have a better sense of humor.
If you enjoy your characters, be wary. It’s easy to make a horrible blunder if you’re fond of them.
Writing fiction: the blunder anyone can make
What’s the blunder?
Making your characters too perfect.
Bestselling novelist Elizabeth George, in Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach To Fiction and the Writing Life, points out that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took care to make Sherlock Holmes imperfect…
(Holmes) has the perfect intellect. The man is a virtual machine of cogitation. But he’s an emotional black hole incapable of a sustained relationship with anyone except Dr Watson and, on top of that, he abuses drugs.
Always, always, give your characters flaws.
Perfect characters annoy readers, AND they’re unbelievable
Recently I read a novel by a bestselling author. Although the author’s known for creating glamorous characters, the main character in this novel was way over the top:
- She’s a doctor: a consultant pediatrician. She’s also…
- A gourmet cook;
- Married with three children under seven;
- An athlete, who’s entered several marathons;
- Flies her own plane for recreation…
After around 30 pages, I thought: oh come on… No one has enough hours in the day for a stressful job, a family, and lots of free time to run marathons and fly planes. This author created a classic Mary Sue.
We discussed unreal, stick-figure characters, and over-the-top Mary Sues are similar. But how do you find character flaws which seem realistic?
Think of the flaws in people you know
Generally, it’s advisable not to use your family and friends when writing fiction, but you can use people’s flaws—and your own too.
Just for fun, make a list of flaws, with examples. Then you’ll become alert to various fun flaws you can use in your characters.
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.