Friday, March 12, 2010

I Like My Characters Flawed

I've been working on my new book, tentatively titled The Field, and I'm really liking where it's taking me. It 's based off of a 35 page short story I wrote for my MFA program. I thought it would be hard to take a story with a concrete ending and turn it into a novel, but it's working. A short story has to be condensed and the pace should move quickly. I now have the chance to slow things down and spend more times on scenes or include parts that I had to cut out.

The only problem is that my main character isn't the nicest. Her sister is dying and instead of grieving, she's jealous. She's always been jealous of her sister and now in the last weeks of her sister's life, these feelings intensify to the point where she does some pretty awful things. Things that I'm something shocked about in my own writing. Scenes that make me ashamed for both my character and the world I've created in the story.

However, there's redemption for my main character. She has reasons for why she does what she does and the story isn't about the negative relationship with her sister, but in the end (if I execute it right), one of strong love and ferocious caring for a person you're going to lose.

I think it will work, even if my main character pisses me off at times.

Do you ever create characters you don't like? Do you give your character flaws so that they aren't perfect? Is this hard for you to do?

I haven't shared in awhile, so I'm including a scene from the piece. Enjoy and happy Friday!

When Amelia first got sick, she started running at night. My dad, who had moved back home after the diagnosis and was sleeping in a guest room as if to let us know that he was in fact just visiting, said matter or fact, “It’s because she can’t sleep, just like your mom.”

Dad believed my sister’s night became day and oftentimes, her life never turned to the hours of sleep. I asked him if he had the same feelings and tried to tell him about my own nightmares that kept me awake, but they evaporated in the air. He had already left the room and I found myself talking to myself.

I knew the truth, though. Amelia didn’t run at night because she couldn’t sleep; she ran because she didn’t want to sleep.

“There’s going to be a time when I won’t have the energy to run anymore,” she confessed to me when I found her hiding in the mudroom, bent over her tennis shoes, lacing them up quickly. She had put a finger to her lip and squatted down, nodding at me to do the same. My mom was looking for her, wandering slowly through the house and it seemed like she was the one who needed to be found. “Tell her I’m gone; I’m already running.”

I nodded and she was off, her shadow dark and racing against a sky that was even darker. When she rounded the corner, I went inside, closed the door and dead bolted it. I turned off the light over the front awning, making our house a black unwelcoming hole against the candles that burned from the miracle seekers in our fields. Sometimes I had wished my sister would just run and run and never come home.


margosita said...

If characters weren't flawed and only acted in the way they should act, they wouldn't be interesting. So I don't think you need to worry about that, much. Though I'd be interested if that dynamic works in YA literature, if you think young adults are more or less responsive to characters that are hard to love.

Kristan said...

Ditto what margosita said.

I would think that teens would be fairly responsive to (good) characters who do bad things. I mean, isn't that when we all make mistakes and maybe do some things we're not so proud of? Because we're still forming, still learning who exactly we want to be and how to become that version of ourselves.

I think flawed is fine. Good, in fact.

allerson said...

I think your story sounds really interesting BECAUSE the MC is so complex. Especially with YA writing, I think a lot of readers will identify with feelings of jealousy when there's not necessarily anything to be jealous of...

I love flawed characters because I love trying to figure them out. I like taking someone detestable, like a serial killer, and working him from another angle. I took a course in Abnormal Psych just so I could make stranger characters.

Lisa Nowak said...

In one of my books, the protagonist starts out as a pissed-off kid who takes his pain out on everyone around him, even people who clearly don't deserve it. I had to re-work the beginning time and again because my betas (and some agents) kept saying how they just didn't like this kid. I tried making him more sympathetic by showing the family history that had made him that way, but it didn't work. Finally I added a new first chapter that showed hm taking the fall for a friend. After that, people said they liked him, even though he was still a pain in the ass.

I think complicated characters are awesome, but when they're hard to love, you have to give the reader a reason to stick with them. One way to do that is to make them absolutely fascinating. Another is to show why they're being so mean.

I think it's also important to give your "bad guys" complexity. I had a lot of fun with one minor character by making him do some honorable things then turn around and continue doing the things that made people hate him. Nobody's perfect, and I think readers like to be conflicted in how they view characters. It makes the story more interesting and real.

One good example of an unlikable character is Dane in the book Thaw by Monica M. Roe. I really hated that kid, and frankly didn't see how the author got by all the naysayers who would tell you it's necessary to have your protagonist be somewhat likable. I guess the book succeeded because the premise of the story was so compelling. There's a good review on that book here:

Kaitlin Ward said...

I love flawed characters! This story sounds fantastic.

Lindsay Currie said...

I am pleased that the day I visited your site for the first time you included an excerpt from a work of yours in your blog post. Your writing is beautiful. Ironically, all of my characters are flawed it seems and so my answer would be yes, I LOVE flawed characters! Best of luck getting your book published and congrats on landing an agent from someone who is still in the trenches!