The ‘Art’ of Writing a Flawed Character

This is a Guest Post by Shannen Crane Camp.Shannen was born and raised in Southern California where she developed a love of reading and writing, completing her first (very) short story in the fifth grade. She continued to write throughout junior high and high school before finally deciding that enough was enough; it was time to be an author. She moved to Provo, Utah, to attend Brigham Young University where she attained a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and a very well received proposal from her fellow California resident Josh Camp. The two are now happily married and living in Provo. You can find heer online at her blog or on GoodReads.

Driving home from work today I was thinking about criticism I could receive once my book comes out. I realize this is an odd thing to think about but as the release date draws near my paranoid mind can’t help itself. I want to be prepared with an answer for any “˜Why did you do that?’ question.

The Break-up Artist by Shannen Crane Camp, LDS Authors, Utah Authors, Teen books, books for teens, clean romance books,One of the things that immediately came to mind is the fact that my main character, Amelia, is a bit self-righteous and clingy. I realize that’s not really the way you want to describe your characters but think about this: how boring would it be if she wasn’t flawed?

I think sometimes it’s hard for writers to write a character who can be unlikable. We want so much to make our characters perfect but how realistic is that? When was the last time you met a perfect person? Even though people will read the stupid decisions your character makes and say, “Why did they do that? Aren’t we supposed to like them?” they’ll eventually start to think, “I’ve made stupid decisions like that.” And pow! There’s your connection between the character and the reader.

No one’s perfect. Perfect characters are annoying, boring, and unrealistic. Flaws make us who we are and make us interesting so don’t be afraid to have your characters do unlikable things. It’s OK for them to make mistakes if there’s a purpose behind it.

Now this doesn’t mean you should make your characters make every bad decision they possibly can. That’s being untreatable on the opposite extreme. Just let them make decisions that they’re going to learn from in the end.

When writing try to ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. Has my character made any mistakes in this story?
  2. Does my character somehow know everything that’s going to happen in the story and plan accordingly (your character probably shouldn’t be so perfect that they help the story along”¦ in fact you may want to make the story end up OK in spite of your character’s imperfections).
  3. And last, if I were friends with my character in real life would I think they’re relatable?Shannen Camp, Break-up Artist, Local Utah Author, LDS author

Whenever I’m writing a scene I’ll take a step back and weigh my options on how the situation should turn out. They can say something perfectly adapted to the situation that I, as the author, have sat and thought about for hours. Or they can make the decision that I would have made if I were actually in that situation and had only a split second to decide what I wanted to say. The outcome is usually much less eloquent than I’d like but it’s real. And sometimes real is more important than perfect.

So “˜self righteous Amelia’, you’re kind of annoying when you think you’re above everyone else, but you learn from it so keep making mistakes and growing. We’ll love you for it eventually.

2 thoughts on “The ‘Art’ of Writing a Flawed Character

  • December 8, 2011 at 5:15 am

    Shannon – I completely agree with loving having flawed characters, particularly my heroines. I too have had people wonder why I write characters who seem so dislikable in the beginning, but I think if the author manages to bring the reader around to rooting for said unlikable character, then it’s a good thing! Great post. I’m excited for your book. Good luck with the release!!

  • December 12, 2011 at 10:04 am

    I think we love characters for their flaws, or maybe we love them in SPITE of their flaws. Either way, no one’s perfect 😀

    And reviews that slam authors for writing a character they don’t think they could be friends with in real life is one of those things that makes me CRAZY!

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