Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Monsters In The Closet

No, this is not a post about a children's book, or anything concerning fantasy or even science fiction. It's about those Monsters our characters keep... or want to keep... in the closet.

Now, some writers call them flaws... character flaws. Some might even call them fatal flaws. I don't think it matters much what you call them, just that you and your characters...and your readers... know they are there. Because even if they are hiding in a closet somewhere, they're going to come out, usually at the most inconvenient time and throw a strike ball into your story.

We all want our characters, particularly our main characters, to be as perfect as possible. But therein lies the trouble. We're not perfect, so how can our characters be? If your character doesn't have any kind of flaw, or even flaws, how can your readers relate to him?

Do you remember the original stories about Superman and Batman? Clark Kent may have been an inept news reporter, but as Superman he was invincible. No matter what kind of crime or criminal he took on, you always knew he would come out on top because there was nothing that could hurt him.  Well, until Kryptonite came along, anyway. But even then, you were already convinced that he would succeed in destroying that power in the end. You liked Superman, but how invested in him emotionally were you? Probably not at all, because he was super-human, and had no flaws.

Batman was different. He was a real human, a millionaire with time on his hands and nothing more to do than invest a few million in some outrageously wild and weird toys. He fought crime, sure, but he could get hurt... actually, I think in some episodes he actually did get hurt... because he was not superhuman. He was just a guy who believed wholeheartedly in JUSTICE, and sometimes his methods of obtaining it were not what you would call completely...umm...legal? So we could become attached to him emotionally, because he was a good guy like so many other good guys, just a little psychologically "off." In other words, he was human like the rest of us.

That's why your characters MUST have those monsters-in-the-closet...flaws. Just like us. I mean, most of us know what our flaws are: we lose our tempers, often when we absolutely should not; we are perfectionists, and therefore impose our "standards of perfection" upon everyone else, which in turn causes all kinds of problems; we are jealous or envious, which can cause us to lose friends and hurt the people we love the most ( and are the most envious of); we're selfish, we're overly critical, we're egotistical and prideful... you get the idea, right?  We are HUMAN, which means we don't always do the right thing, say the right words, act in the most appropriate way. And that's why ( partly!) our family and friends love us, because they can relate to us.

This is why you cannot, must not, create the perfect character. She has to have flaws that will somehow impact the way she talks, acts, relates, and responds to people, places, and situations in your story. Those flaws can be something physical... my MC in my WIP is a beautiful girl with an ugly scar down one side of her face, and a slight physical hip deformity which causes her to limp. You think those aren't going to impact her and others around her in some... perhaps many...ways? Of course they are, and sometimes in a way that could get her hurt or even killed.

Flaws can be physical, psychological, or moral. The point is, they make the character someone the reader can relate to and/or identify with. As the character goes along in the story, the flaws help to create the emotional arc of the story, because we need to see how the character uses them to grow and change throughout the story.

We talk about external conflict and internal conflict. A character's flaws help create, or perhaps are the sole reason for, her internal conflict. She must strive to overcome them, but at the same time, these very flaws can make  her and the story strong. You see, these same flaws can also be the impetus for the external conflict of the story.

AND! DON"T forget your villian! He or she should not be ALL bad, no more than your MC should be all good. To make your story more interesting and compelling, give your villian some of the good qualities of human behavior. Maybe he displays those qualities at the most inopportune times, which will cause your reader to scratch her head and think, But I thought HE was the bad guy!

See what you can do with those monsters-in-the-closet, for both your heroine and your villian, and decide for yourself if your characters aren't more realistic, more human. I think you'll see that it makes your story more interesting, exciting, and a more compelling read.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.