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Writing Flawed Characters

As a writer, I create characters. Or perhaps, bits of them already exist in my memories and my everyday encounters, and they need me to piece together the puzzle, bringing them to life as new personalities. Although it’s nice to have a mental image of them as flesh and blood people, I focus on what’s inside. So I insinuate myself into their headspace and listen to their thoughts. It’s kind of like having multiple personalities rattling around in my head, vying for the opportunity to tell their side of the story. And it is a story. Fiction. The characters are a figment of my imagination.

But readers want an authentic experience when they open a book. So the fiction needs to be based on reality. The characters must be true to life. Flawed. They’re not perfect. They don’t always behave in a rational manner. They do the strangest things. Sometimes, they make the reader shake their head in disbelief. Are these flawed characters, acting in weird ways, unrealistic? Is the writing itself flawed? Is the author taking too much liberty asking the reader to suspend their disbelief? Or is the author intentionally depicting their characters this way? If they act ‘out of character’ at times, outside the box, or don’t fit preconceived notions of how we think they should respond in any given situation, perhaps it’s because they’ve been molded from a writer’s individual life experiences and observations, not those of the reader. Everyone (writers and readers alike) brings their own unique background and point of view to a work of literature. Check out the daily news articles and features and you’ll discover real people with real flaws in real situations, doing the most bizarre things—acts that seem incredible by any stretch of the imagination. 

As a fiction author, keeping it real means infusing my characters with genuine traits and having them experience human feelings. From claustrophobia and a fear of heights to pervasive anxiety, from worry and depression to overwhelming grief, they grapple with emotions they can’t control. With situations that get out of hand and mistakes in the heat of the moment to criminal activity, with addictions and domestic abuse to destroyed lives, they deal with issues that aren’t easy to resolve. From the timid to the nosy, from the serious-minded to the jokesters, they struggle with who they are and how they perceive the world they’ve been thrown into.

Like real people. Like the readers who put themselves in the characters’ shoes. The readers who shake their heads and want to scream at them. And like the authors who create them based on their own understanding of the world and who know exactly how they feel. 


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