Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Kryptonize Me

I didn't take a bunch of character classes at the conference. Not really sure why, but I think I was focused more on marketing and stuff this time around. But I did lead a group of five aspiring authors in a critique group setting. During this intense time, we received a mini-lesson on characters.

And I heard something that stuck with me. The presenter, Annette Lyon, gave a lesson on protags.

She said, "Even Superman had his Kryptonite."

*insert a-ha moment*

I've heard it before. Your protag can't be perfect, they need flaws, blah blah blah. But you know how you just hear the right words in the right order and suddenly everything clicks into place? That's what happened here.

So when you're developing your protag, remember that they need their own brand of Kryptonite.

What do you think? Have you given your protag some Kryptonite? Has it made them stronger? More believable? More relatable? How so?

81 comments:

Tabitha Bird said...

I write memoir and so it was really important for me to let the good and the bad shine through. the flaws are what makes people want to read on. I love that thought about the Kryptonite. I have a heap of it, yeah.

Matthew Rush said...

I don't know about Kryptonite exactly, but I have definitely given my MC weaknesses and character flaws, so hopefully his humanity is believable.

JoLynne Lyon said...

I like mcs that you want to beat over the head at least once in the book. My MC makes a lot of mistakes. I still like him.

MissV said...

My MC has a flaw, but I need to develop it a little more gracefully!

Thanks for the reminder

Terri Tiffany said...

I noticed the conference I'm attending is offering critique sessions and I wasn't sure what that means. Can you go and sit in and listen to someone's critique?

Candyland said...

She does! And I def. thinks flaws make a character relatable, at least to me, because I was never near perfect, so characters like that resonate with me.

foldingfields said...

I have those, seemingly delayed, A-HA moments all the time. So much is swirling around in my brain that I'm not always paying attention to any one thing at a time. I have to force myself to focus. Writer conferences do that, I'm guessing. Saving up for one this summer.
Anyway, my protagonist's main flaw is that she avoids/runs from nearly everything until she realizes this only delays the inevitable of dealing with things. The main theme of the story is self-discovery/growing up/facing your demons, etc. Her other flaw is not being able to resist not one, but two, handsome young men.

Carol Kilgore said...

I always have to search for the Kryptonite. It seems the Kryptonite Fairy hides it in the darndest places.

Shrinky said...

A flawless character is about as bland a read, as a cup of hot water is to drink. Faults add nuance and flesh, it's essential to humanise your protag, if he/she/it is to be believable.

Bish Denham said...

I'd love to make my protags perfect, but I so much more enjoy giving them strange character flaws. Makes them more interesting to write about.

Portia said...

I love this. It's tue of all the best characters. The nature of their weakness can be so revealing and make characters so much more likable. The guy character who can't leave a buddy behind, even if it means risking his own life. The girl whose romantic nature leads her into a dangerous relationship with a stranger. These are cliches, but they prove the rule ...

Tara said...

Oh yeah, MC has plenty of flaws - the main being that she doesn't think she has any ;)

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Oh I love messing with my characters! It adds more wood to the fire. We are talking big bonfire!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

For some reason this makes me think of Minny from The Help (I'd like to claim I wrote that book). She certainly wasn't perfect, but man is she lovable!

In my WIP, mine has a temper and a hard time forgiving someone.

~ Wendy

Jaydee Morgan said...

Mine certainly do. Almost every protagonist I've ever created is terrribly flawed. I think I prefer them that way.

Summer said...

Sometimes I feel like my protag is so flawed that the good has a hard time shining through. But, it's all part of the story...

Janet Johnson said...

What fun is a perfect character? I fall asleep even contemplating the idea. :)

Lisa said...

Yes! I heard this from an agent back in January who'd requested a full from me. She liked my manuscript, but warned me my protag was too perfect. I listened to her, because the woman knows what she's talking about, and my manuscript was so much better for the small changes I made. Woot!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Definitely! My mc's flaw is part of the reason for the story. If she had taken a different path in the first place, there would be no story . . . or at least it would be a very different one.

Jonathon Arntson said...

I may be too kind to my characters...no, probably not.

Amy Jo Lavin said...

The first novel I wrote was filled with characters who lacked weaknesses. And they're boring! If I ever want to attempt to publish it, I have some serious revisions to complete. :)

Indigo said...

Yeah, I got that hand slap upside the forehead yesterday. Apparently I made my main character too strong of a personality. I'm talking Amazonite, she-ra I can do anything better persona.

So...yeah flaws, she needs a softer side and something she can't handle herself. Got it! (Hugs)Indigo

Solvang Sherrie said...

I think that's what makes my WIP so much better than my first novel. I've finally learned that my heroes don't have to be perfect.

Jen said...

I think all MC's should have some sort of kryptonite, it's important to show that they can grow as a character, not to turn into something perfect but to learn a lesson.

Flaws are the true beauty in characters!

Falen said...

it's one of the things i'm working on zazzing up in my revisions.

Liza said...

I know what my MC's Kryptonite is though I haven't managed to get it down on the page yet.

Lisa K. said...

There's nothing quite like those a-ha moments, is there, when everything clicks into place?

I think I'm going to pin that quote "Even Superman had his Kryptonite" up on my bulletin board because it's a great insight into characterization.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Oh, I love a good "a-ha" moment! I think I've got it. I hope I do. I do. LOL! :-)

Stephanie Thornton said...

That is totally a great a-ha moment! Both my protagonists have kryptonite. And boy howdy, but it's tripped them both up big time!

Donna Hole said...

I think I over-developed my secondary characters and it is making me lose sight of my MC. She has nightmares about her childhood, but other than that, she just supports the two screwed up men she has to choose between.

Hmm, you've really given me something to think about with this question. My novel centers around emotion and culture. My character has growth, but not a lot of action.

I'll be inserting this line in my first novel. Can a novel be sellable with personal growth as its focus?

Now that you have your novel ready for sales, I think its great you're focusing on marketing. My last conference I went to I did the same. That was like learning a new language from the natives. Confusing but interesting.

........dhole

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

My MC has a "quantum quirk" that allows him to do improbable things, but it comes with a physical cost.

It's very hard (at least, for me) to develop a character with a good balance of strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, in the interest of showing a character arc, I focus too much on the weaknesses at first, and that makes my character unlikeable.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I totally agree! Everyone, no matter how wonderful, is flawed. And every near-completely flawed person has a talent or gift. That's something I keep in mind for my protagonists and my antagonists.

Great reminder to all!

Sara B. Larson said...

It definitely makes a protag more relatable and real. My female protags all have flaws. I just have to remember to give my male protags flaws - it's too tempting to want to write the "perfect" guy. Ha ha! ;-)

Christine Fonseca said...

Absolutely - every hero is flawed...as are mine :D

Lani Woodland said...

That piece of advice stood out to me too. It was hard to make my character less perfect but I knew it made her more real. It was great meeting you at the conference!

Krista said...

I tend to give my protags big, looming mounds of kryptonite, but they aren't out there for all to see. One Protag seemed so perfect I thought, Ugh, nobody will relate to this Goddess... but after I figured out her own pockets full of kryptonite (I love that song, Spin Doctors) I relaxed. They made her totally reachable. I hope.

Taryn Tyler said...

I think it goes both ways, not only for protagonists. Villains need some hint at redeeming quality to make them believable and minor characters also need some good and bad tossed around in them.

Faith said...

Lately I've read a number of books where the female protagonists DIDN'T have any flaws... it drove me absolutely nuts. How can a reader relate to someone who's perfect in every way? That's not even close to realistic. 'Kryptonite' is absolutely essential for crafting a believable story!

Carolyn V. said...

Yes, you have to connect with the character (both the good guys and the bad guys) to make a strong piece.

Alison Eckel said...

Definitely something I learned from book number one - my protag had everything too easy. Too perfect = unlikeable. Flaws bring characters to life. My protag from book number two is much more real to me - all because she has flaws.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

My MC has a few flaws, but I haven't really capitalized on them. I guess that's what revision is for, eh?

Crystal Cook said...

I love moments like that, when things just click in your brain! Yeah!

My poor protag, he has a variety of kryptonites. But I love him.

Cynthia Watson said...

My MC's biggest weakness is perogies!

Jojomama said...

So true...without flaws our mcs would not be relatable. And the stakes wouldn't ever get high enough to get the reader rooting for them!
http://jostorm.blogspot.com/

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

I love the kryptonite line, good way of putting it. I write highly flawed characters typically--maybe too much so at times, lol. So there is a lot of kryptonite around.

Melissa said...

Well, I thought I had developed a flawed mc until one of my crit partners told me that she was too "good". Now to figure out where I went wrong!

Krispy said...

Flaws are sometimes hard to write because you want your character to be strong, competent, brave, and so on, but it's pointless if they have nothing to overcome. They're not believable without some weaknesses, not to mention boring. I like the kryptonite analogy. Very effective.

Write Chick said...

This stood out to me also and I completely agree. Although I think I swung in the opposite direction too much and made my MC hated. Fixing it now, and thinking about the fact that one of the other characters in my book seems to be perfect. I must come up with a flaw for him.

Thanks for the reminder!

Annette Lyon said...

Thanks for the shout-out! To think that an off-hand remark like that hit the target. Awesome!

I love getting those aha moments.

Olivia Carter said...

Ack! I wish I been able to go- we could have met in person! Darn it!

I love Annette. I took a writing class from her that I loved. She's great & that statement is TOO TRUE!

I've got a thing for the Byronic Hero, the Tragi Hero, the flawed characters in life and fiction are the most interesting.

laurapauling said...

I need to hear things over and over before they make it into my writing!

laurapauling said...

I need to hear things over and over before they make it into my writing!

laurapauling said...

I need to hear things over and over before they make it into my writing!

Talli Roland said...

Oh yes, my protagonist is flawed. Some might say too flawed, but hopefully she redeems herself by the end!

Great advice!

Abby Annis said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Just the other day I did something really awful to main character to prove to her she's not all powerful and invincible. Made me sad but it was necessary. Great post!

Elle Strauss said...

I think I may error in the other direction by giving my protag too many weaknesses.

VR Barkowski said...

I've got this one covered, Elana! If my protags had no weaknesses, I'd have no story. Two points for psychologically driven suspense. :)

Sandy Shin said...

When reading, I love MCs that have flaws without being irritating (I might want to hit them over the head, but not throw the book across the room). That's what I'm striving to do with my novel. :)

kathrynjankowski said...

My MC begins the story by making a promise with her fingers crossed, so I guess that counts as a flaw.
;-)

T. Anne said...

I might have to add some kryptonite in the revisions. ;) I hope you don't mind, I plan on advertising spreading the awesome through twitter/facebook!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

As in hang-ups and shortcomings? Oh yes, my main characters have those!

Emily Ann Benedict said...

I personally like to work with very flawed characters, so this is my alley! My curren hero is totally terrified of women who tend to go hysterical and any form of emotional attachement. ;)

Actually, character traits that make the readers connect is the topic on my blog right now. :)

Lydia Kang said...

I love flawsomeness. Love it. Perfect characters drive me crazy.

Munk said...

Booker has slight anger management issues, he also has difficulty talking to girls.

Janna Qualman said...

Very effective! Excellent lesson.

lisanowak said...

Creating characters is my favorite part of writing, and I actually enjoy making them flawed. I think some of the best flaws come from the flip side of a strength. For example, my character Jess is tenacious and self-sufficient, but those traits also make it almost impossible for her to ask for help or trust others.

I also totally enjoy taking a bad guy and giving him good traits. I love to mess with a reader's head, suckering them into re-thinking their hatred or distrust of the character.

SAMUEL PARK said...

This is a great reminder, and I think you're hit the nail on the head--characters (specially nowadays it seems) need to have flaws. Even in Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie had all kinds of flaws, starting with the aforementioned prejudice. Thanks for posting this and sharing this with everyone.

Liz H. Allen said...

I believe every every main character should have internal conflict of some sort - they might need external conflict as well. It makes them more believable and makes for a better story.

Valerie Wangnet said...

Fantastic blog, and yes this is a very good point!!

Regards
Val

Jemi Fraser said...

Hmmm, great question. I think both of my mc's kryptonites would be in their lack of ability to trust - although it comes out differently in each character. Anger in one, fear in the other would be close seconds.

catwoods said...

Good point, Elana. I try to make my MC's real without making them too whiney or too anything for that matter. Normal with a little twist, maybe?

Mary Aalgaard said...

Yes. That's great. It's like, Everyone has their weakness. That's how the telemarketers "get" us.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Every hour there were at least three workshops I wanted to attend! Too many choices! I did a lot of the marketing ones, too, but you always wonder while you're sitting in one class what you're missing in the others . . . :-)

Heather Zundel said...

I almost daresay kryptonite is what MAKES a character. You get to see what they are made of because of it. It is a glimpse into their soul.

Jennie Englund said...

I agree with Wendy P-Miller; Minny from THE HELP is an excellent example of a flawed but believeable and loved character.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

The Kryptonite for my undead Texas Ranger is not his need for the life energies of others, not his life-long enemy, not even his refusal to bend to the changing times.

It is love.

His love for the mysterious woman who completed him, then deserted him for reasons unknown. Her loss hits him somewhere beneath speech and beyond the grasp of his reason. He is a ship with a broken compass, not seeming to be able to find his way anymore.

India Drummond said...

It's not difficult, I think, to write flaws into my characters. I'm just concerned that I make them so flawed that they're annoying!

But they are so necessary. I really could live happily if I never again had to read about a innocent but sexy heroine and the alpha male who wants to claim her for his own (gag)

Theresa Milstein said...

This is a good question.

Every character needs at least one flaw. A quirk or two is nice too. If a character has powers, there has to be a kryptonite. What's the point if s/he's invincible? Where's the tension? How will s/he be relatable? Even Voldemort, who seemed nearly invincible in the last few books, had a weakness.

Palindrome said...

my current MC is so tortured I don't know what to do with her sometimes. She's vulnerable, melancholy and twisty but I think she's going to surprise me and harbor some real strength after I'm through with her.

I know I'm cruel for putting her through so much. I'm a glutton for punishment.

Palindrome said...

my current MC is so tortured I don't know what to do with her sometimes. She's vulnerable, melancholy and twisty but I think she's going to surprise me and harbor some real strength after I'm through with her.

I know I'm cruel for putting her through so much. I'm a glutton for punishment.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I gave my MC flaws. I don't think I could relate to a character who didn't have some sort of imperfection. It makes for a more rounded person.
Cool post.

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