Monday, January 7, 2013

Lessons From Being Critiqued: Flaws

Okay, so it's great to be back! I'm re-envisioning my blog (yes, again), so hopefully we'll be able to have some awesome discussions this year.

Up on tap today: Lessons from the Critique Trenches.

Receiving a critique can be hard. I think I've become completely desensitized to it somewhat. I get edited extensively from multiple sources, and I think I know how to look past what might hurt my feelings and into the novel to find the potential.

And some of that potential includes creating characters with flaws.

I'm terrible at doing this. If my main character isn't perfect, her boyfriend is. If he's not, her best friend is. Someone always is.

There are a couple of problems with this.
1. No one's perfect, and we hate that person who appears to be. You know, the one who decides to try out for the ballroom team and makes it, and then decides to run track the next and is the best? Yeah, that person. We hate them. Writing them into books isn't a good idea.

2. If the MC is already perfect, they have no character arc. And no arc = bad news for your novel.

3. If the MC has people around them that are perfect, what's the point of the secondary character? This is a question I've been asking myself a lot lately, trust me. I've cut entire characters from books before, so I can do it. It just makes for a lot of work, and sometimes I get frustrated that I haven't learned this lesson yet. I mean, seriously.

So lesson for today: Create flawed characters. Or at least be willing to revise them into that non-perfected, able-to-grow-and-change person they should've been when you drafted.

Do your characters have flaws? Do you actually think of these in advance or are you a non-perfector during revisions like I am?

39 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

So true that characters need flaws, Elana. When I started writing, my MC was perfect and had no challenges. Needless to say, I had to do some major revisions.

Happy New Year!

Jemi Fraser said...

Those perfect people are annoying - in real life and in books! I'm guilty of having my characters too perfect though - with only something minor as a flaw. I'm definitely getting better at this though! It's not always easy :)

LM Preston said...

I'm about to be ripped up by my beta readers on 2 wips I just finished. It's not fun, but I know its necessary. Great advice!

Patti said...

I definitely had problems with this when I first started, I hope I'm better at creating flawed characters now. Welcome back and happy new year.

SA Larsenッ said...

Great points, E! I know what you mean; it's easy to get caught up in perfection. I love creating characters with flaws, usually writing up a bio first and adding something wacky in it. Most of the time I adjust that, but I love giving my characters some freaky flaw to set them apart. Now intertwining that flaw into the story is not always easy...

Julie Luek said...

I've seen a few NY goals now about revamping blogs. I think the new year is a perfect time to rethink about the blog's purpose and direction. I'll look forward to following yours and seeing your changes. Best to you in 2013.

mshatch said...

I tend to create flawed characters. They're more fun, make more mistakes, say things they shouldn't. Sort of like me. Unfortunately.

Christine Fonseca said...

Great post and your blog looks beautiful!

Liesel K Hill said...

Very good point. I'm not sure how good I am at this. I've never had anyone point out a perfect character to me, so I think I do okay. Cutting a character completely out terrifies me, though. I rather write in a flaw than cut out a character. Guess I'm sentimental that way. :D Great post!

Theresa Milstein said...

I like creating characters with flaws. I'm so flawed, so... write what you know.

Did you read Crash by Jerry Spinelli? The MC is physically advanced--wins it all, but mentally immature and self-centered. Was such a cheer for me to see him develop as a person. Thought he'd be too unlikable for me to slog through it, but I'm glad I did. It was an eye-opener for me as a writer. Taught me to be brave with the flaws and character growth because I don't think I go far enough.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I made my main character so flawed and messed up I had to undo some of it!

Sara B. Larson said...

Flaws are interesting things--because you want your characters flawed, but not so much that people can't relate to them. I seem to either have them not flawed enough or TOO flawed, and get told "I can't relate to your MC" because of it. It's tricky to find that balance, but definitely make for the best characters when an author can do it well. I'm still learning...

ilima said...

This is probably my biggest pet peeve in books I read or critique...characters that are too perfect. They don't have to be messed up beyond anything sensible, but they MUST have some kind of weakness, at least, or else I'm left gagging at them the entire time. I love me some flawed characters...and they're even funner to write. :)

Jan Newman said...

I have the opposite problem and get warned not to show my characters at their worst! Going in the opposite direction of perfect has its pitfalls.

Teresa Coltrin said...

It's so hard to hurt the characters, but it must be done. :)

T

A.J. Frey said...

Characterization is my favorite part of writing. I love complex characters. Heroes with flaws, villians you love, heroines you want to slap yet love at the same time. I love being confused at who to cheer for.

Flaws are important. The boy can't have the perfect looks, the perfect answers, and be the perfect boyfriend. That only works if he is in fact a serial murderer and the lady friend is in danger of being next. Mmmm, I'll be right back. haha :-)

Great post.

Elana Johnson said...

I'm glad others like flawed characters as well. It really does make them more relatable.

And I agree that there is no such thing as a perfect boyfriend! I need to work on that too...

J. A. Bennett said...

um... I have a hard time imagining you struggling with this. Your characters are so mulch-dimensional, Seriously, I love them. But I'm also glad to know that I'm not the only one who has to go back and add flaws later. Totally guilty of this.

Jenny S. Morris said...

My guys usually are too perfect. You want them to be swoon worthy, right? So they come off too good. But I'm working on it. My secondary charters are usually the ones that have lots of flaws.

Rebecca Green Gasper said...

Yes, I agree, characters need to be flawed...perfectly, to create tension and be relate-able. No one's perfect so therefore we can not relate to perfect characters and only find them annoying. Great post- thanks for sharing.

Alice said...

This is a tricky one, but so important and such a common mistake. I see it all the time and have make a conscious effort not to do it.

Jenna Stone said...

In the past, I've definitely been guilty of making characters perfect. It was usually my main character and I had to do a lot of studying of the craft and learning about character arcs. Now I try to plan at least one or two flaws for my character beforehand, and then a few others sometimes pop up as I'm writing. Now it's fun to give my characters issues :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

This is an excellent post -- especially regarding the secondary characters. I *think* most writers know the MC should be flawed, but it's easy to fall into the trap of writing the love interest as perfect, or the best friend, or the guardian/wise teacher, etc.

I actually had to fight a critique partner on this during revisions of my last manuscript. There was this one guy who was heroic and noble at the end of the story, and my CP kept picking at mistakes he made earlier in the book: Why did he keep that a secret from the MC? Why was he so careless with (insert detail from story here)? Why is he such a slob? My answer was: He's 18. He screws up sometimes.

Just because this guy was ultimately a hero didn't mean he wasn't also immature in some areas.

He's going to mess up in Book 2, too. ;)

Denise Covey said...

Love your new look. It's great to change. Yes, when I first started writing, my mc was always pretty perfect, but you soon learn that that's not the way to capture an audience.

Denise Covey said...

Love your new look. It's great to change. Yes, when I first started writing, my mc was always pretty perfect, but you soon learn that that's not the way to capture an audience.

Nick Wilford said...

I haven't created any perfect characters. I'm not sure I'd know how - I'm one of those people who tends to mess up in life here and there, so frustration at that comes out in writing! It's tricky because we like to see problems thrown at characters and have them overcome them, but in a human way, not perfectly.

Hannah Kincade said...

I don't think I've fallen into this trap...yet. I love to torture and drown my characters with their flaws. LOL.

Nicole said...

I do have a soft spot for flawed characters, although I've noticed that readers and critters always notice different sets of flaws based on their own circumstances. I love making characters relatable.

Kathryn Purdie said...

I'll admit to writing a perfect love interest in my first book, but I tried to make his perfection his flaw--like it annoyed other people so much, it actually led to their betrayal of him. So he's a character that appears to be perfect in the beginning, but you realize he isn't as the novel progresses.

Yeah, I won't try this perfection/flawed tactic for characters again. It was super hard to try and pull off!

A.E.Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brenna Braaten said...

I really struggle with this one too. I'm constantly reminding myself to add fatal flaws to my characters. I think the problem is we ourselves are striving for perfection, and our characters, no matter how different from us, are an extension of ourselves. Or at least that's my problem, I think.

Susanne Drazic said...

Flawed characters are more relateable, aren't they? I'm bad about giving my characters flaws, even though I know it is necessary. Great post.

Kelly Polark said...

Flawed means interesting too. Perfection is boring.

Donna K. Weaver said...

What's interesting is when you write in flaws that some people don't see. Grrr

Jessie Humphries said...

I had to laugh at the title of this post! I thought, OH GREAT, I SUCK AT THIS! But my skin is getting tougher. Growing some callouses. I'm going to be a pro like you one day. :)

Michael Di Gesu said...

Good point Elana,

NO ONE is PERFECT so why write about a character who is?

I NEVER write about perfect people... way TOO BORING!!!!

Happy 2013 dude!

perfumehk said...

Nice blog
Parfum pas cher

Matthew MacNish said...

Yes! This is key.

Beth said...

This is great news. I'm so glad that my quirky goof up characters have a future!

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