Thursday, February 16, 2012

Likable VS Fallible Characters

Nobody’s perfect
We all make mistakes
Live and learn
                        To err is human to forgive is divine

One of the most important things a writer can do is create believable characters. Even if writing a zombies vs. robots book, we have to relate to the characters.

 There are so many characters in literature who are noble and good. We want to be a better person after reading their stories. I think those are great, however we are not a perfect race. We are not always noble or good. We think and do things we genuinely know we aren’t supposed to, but we do it without really knowing why.

 I like to pride myself on being a giving person. Someone who is considerate of others feelings, however there have been so many occasions when words fly out of my mouth unintended—at least partially unintended. It takes a few seconds. A look. Whatever. Then I want to crawl back inside myself and take it back. I don’t know why I said what I said, but I did. Does that make me a bad person? No. I guess, it just makes me real.

So how far can you go when crafting characters? How big of a hole can you dig them in before the reader simply thinks the person is unlikable?

I’m struggling with this in my second novel. It’s completed, but in need of a good edit. I am a by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer, no matter how hard I try to follow a written or even an imaginary guide, my characters steer me on their own path. 

In this story, the MC is struggling to relate to her father, to forgive him for a foolish and disastrous mistake he made in a moment of weakness. He made the wrong decision because he loved someone so much. He paid his consequences, however so did his family and that is the thing she can't forgive him for. 

Years later, his daughter makes a really bad decision of her own also in the name of love. She tells a horrible lie. One that she can’t undo. This isn't new. Who hasn't lied when they've been pushed in a corner? 

I’ve had a critique partner suggest I take it out. “We need to like her,” she says.  I get that, but so often in life we repeat our parents mistakes. No matter how much we say we won’t do this or that, we end up doing the exact same things. My character judged her father so harshly for something he would give anything to take back, yet she made a dumb mistake too. She took a risk and it didn’t pay off. 

So do I dumb it down? Make her do the right thing so she’s likable? Or do I let it ride, hoping someone gets it? 

I’d love to hear about how you infuse character idiosyncrasies into your work? 


Pat Amsden said...

Characters don't have to be likable all the time. They can do hateful things or make terrible mistakes and it makes for an even stronger character. Plus, they definitely have room for growth then!

Anonymous said...

I like characters that make mistakes. I probably like them more, because their mistakes make them human. But likability, I think, isn't attached to mistake making. It's more about a connection between the character and the reader. How about if...I like her because she makes mistakes, recognizes that and does what she can to fix it???
I don't know if that helps.
Good post and good question.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Interesting post, Diana. Surely it's our mistakes that make us human. Sounds a good idea to allow the daughter to do this as that will make her more forgiving of her father at last (I assume).

Jacqui said...

I like characters need to be real and relatable, not necessarily likable. We just need to be able to see something in the character that we can identify with.

Jennifer Fischetto said...

Hi Dianna. First I wanted to say hello from a fellow Platform Campaigner and let you know you've been tagged in a game of Eleven Questions. :)

Second, don't take out the lie or dumb it down. But do look at how it's written. There needs to be conflict. A perfect character is boring and won't get you published.

If you show us the turmoil she goes through because of this lie, how much it's tearing her apart and the consequences she's living with (cause there needs to be an aftermath to her choice) then we can still sympathize with her. She could murder someone and readers can still like her if there's a strong enough motivation to her actions.

Good luck!

S.P. Bowers said...

Characters have to be human, that means they have to make mistakes and bad decisions. There have been a lot of books where characters make decisions I wouldn't have made or that make me uncomfortable, but they're not me. And if it was a decision I could realistically see them making then it was all good. Stay true to your character and let her be herself, warts and all.

Christine Tyler said...

Heya, I tagged you on my blog for 11 Questions About You. Come on by and share in the fun, and participate by tagging someone else :)

Elizabeth said...

People make mistakes, that's part of what makes them interesting. The MC can still be likable if the reader understands why she told the lie and can feel empathy.