Sunday, January 18, 2015

Are our characters flawed enough? by Jannine Gallant

Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet? ~ L.M. Montgomery

This quote got me thinking about my characters--and the mistakes they've made. And the ones who haven't made a lot of mistakes. I don't know about you, but sometimes I have a hard time giving my characters flaws. Heaven knows I'm not perfect (just ask my daughters), but I want my heroes and heroines to be better than that. I have to make a conscious effort to give them less than stellar traits to overcome. In an ironic twist, looking back at the characters I've created, the most memorable of the bunch are the ones who have the most shortcomings. The hero who makes you think, "Seriously, dude? Did you really just say that?" The one who finally pulls it together in the end when you honestly doubt he's ever going to be worthy of the heroine's love.

In another ironic twist, I've realized the characters in my suspense books always have issues, but not nearly as many quirky hangups as the ones in my straight contemporaries. Maybe because they need more strength to overcome the bad guys? Maybe because there's more focus on the plot in these books? Solving a mystery and staying one step ahead of a crazy killer, along with working through emotional issues hindering the love story, may be enough conflict for one book. Adding major character flaws to the mix might just double the word count needed to get everything sorted out. And let's face it, publishers aren't looking for novels that top 100,000 words no matter how interesting our characters! But, in a straight contemporary with no mystery to solve, the reader expects more depth of character to keep the story moving. Which is why my two cowboy books win the contest for memorable heroes. These books don't have the most complicated plots, so the characters had to stand out to make the books shine.

In these excerpts, do you want to smack my heroes upside the head and tell them to get a clue? Yeah, me, too! Let's just say they've made a few mistakes...


From Nothing But Trouble... Chase loves women. All women. He's loved so many women, he doesn't recognize the real thing when it comes along...

     “Have you ever been in love?”
     His hands clenched around the steering wheel, but his tone was hesitant. “I suppose so.”
     “That’s a lukewarm response if ever I heard one.” She shifted in the seat and leaned toward him. “Is it always just physical for you? Have you ever tried engaging your emotions, your heart?”
     “Hell, Honor, I don’t know what to say. I’m not good at talking about that sort of stuff. I feel plenty. You twist me up like a pretzel.” Tossing his hat in the backseat, he ran a hand through his hair. “You make me question everything I’ve ever wanted. When I look at you, it seems like there should be more.”
     Tears burned behind her eyes at his admission. “Honestly? You’re not just saying that to get me into bed.”
     “I’m not sure what I’m saying.”
     “I suppose it’s a start.”
     He raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
     “Yeah.” She gave him a weak smile, feeling her defenses crumble. “It may get you to second base. Possibly third.”
     “Hot damn! That definitely is a start.”


From Asking For Trouble... Cole lost Miranda once over their differences. Too bad he hasn't wised up any...

     He snorted. “Diaper changing isn’t a skill I’m going to need in the future. I don’t intend to have kids. And no offense, but I’d rather shovel horse shit for a living than set up a babysitting service.”
     A pulse throbbed painfully at her temples. “I haven’t forgotten. What was your charming comment on the subject?” She snapped her fingers. “That’s right. You said having kids was like wearing neckties. With little effort, they could choke the life out of a man.”
     “I said that?”
     She dropped the wet, gooey rag on the coffee table, not caring if it took the finish off the damn thing. After shrugging on her jacket, she turned to face him. “You did.”

     “Wow, I didn’t know I was so poetic.”

So, who are some of your most memorable heroes? Flawed or not so much? Curious minds want to know.

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20 comments:

Patricia Kiyono said...

Flaws keep the hero from sounding too good to be true, or a cookie-cutter hero. If he was too perfect the story wouldn't be believable. And yes, they add to the conflict. Sometimes I forget - but thankfully my daughters and editors help to remind me! Great excerpt!

Barbara Edwards said...

Love your excerpts and want both these books.
My heroine Rainie in Ancient Curse is afraid to trust a man with her love because her father is a ruthless liar.

MJ Schiller said...

Loved this post! Great excerpts! The trick with making flawed characters is that there is a fine line between flawed and unlikeable, and people draw that line at different places, so it is always a challenge! I think a lot of times people say they want a flawed character, but they actually want their hero and heroine pretty darn perfect. If you have a reader with the ability to sympathize and understand that bad behavior doesn't necessarily mean a bad person, then you can make your characters real. My hero in TRAPPED UNDER ICE is so flawed, he's in need of therapy! But he takes that challenge head on and tries to become a better person. That's what makes him so awesome! Thanks for sharing this! Great spin off from the quote.

Leah St. James said...

I'm the same way, Jannine. I have to purposefully write character flaws into the good guys. (I guess it's my life-long quest for Prince Charming...but he probably wasn't perfect either.) That's why I love writing bad guys. I find it far more interesting to try to find the likeable aspects of the bad ones. Great excerpts! I loved "Asking for Trouble"!

Calisa Rhose said...

I laughed at these excerpts. Too funny! Thanks for this post on one of my bigger writing issues Jannine. It's so hard to be mean to characters, isn't it?

Lynn Crain said...

These are wonderful excerpts and show men who are definitely afraid to get too close.

Character flaws are hard like you said. You want to make them likable flaws, things that can be fixed though maybe not in the way you expect them.

Flaws can add to the conflict and the story in great ways as you've shown with your two excerpts.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Forget the excerpts, I LOVED both these books. My heroes are flawed too. Jonah, a veteran with PTSD and Eric, raising his young son alone, can't seem to get on with his life. The new series I'm working on, Blood Brothers In Blue, carries on the tortured hero tradition.

Alison Henderson said...

I loved both these heroes, flaws and all. I struggle to give my characters enough flaws to be interesting and agree wholeheartedly with your comment about writing suspense. The more complex plots allow for somewhat less flawed characters.

Susan Coryell said...

In my YA novel EAGLEBAIT, Wardy Spinks, 14-year-old science geek who is bullied unmercifully is full of flaws. Anti-social, awkward, clueless w/peers and suffering from a dis-functional family dynamic--lots of room for character growth! Thanks for making me think.

Diane Burton said...

Love the flawed hero. In my sfr The Chameleon, he is so prejudiced toward the wealthy, he can't see true love until she smacks him upside the head.

Betsy Ashton said...

Oh my, I have the opposite problem. I have a character who isn't likable but who is interesting. I have to balance her meanness with other characteristics to keep the reader interested. It's be an interesting balancing act. Too bad and she's over the top. Too soft, and she won't be taken seriously. Teeter totter, teeter totter.

Jannine Gallant said...

Patricia, I so agree. Too perfect and they aren't believable! Thanks for visiting.

Barb, now that's interesting. Sounds like the father gave your heroine a boatload of baggage!

I sooo get your point, M.J. We sure don't want our readers to knock our characters for being too flawed and unlikable. Thanks for stopping by.

Jannine Gallant said...

Leah, I like writing bad guys, too.They can be really interesting, and it's fun to write mean people!

Glad I made you laugh, Calisa!

Lynn, "fixing" our flawed characters in a believable way is the tough part!

Thanks for stopping by today, ladies.

Jannine Gallant said...

Margo and Alison, it warms my heart to know you loved these flawed characters! I'm glad you agree about the suspense, Alison. I find it REALLY hard to write super-flawed characters in that genre.

Jannine Gallant said...

Susan, Diane and Betsy, it sounds like all three of you have created some unique and interesting characters by adding all those flaws. WTG, ladies!

Thanks for all the comments. It's great to get perspective from other writers.

Alicia Dean said...

Sorry I'm late, as usual. Great post! I think we all have trouble giving our heroes and heroines flaws. That's why my bad guys are usually more interesting than my protagonists. :) Great excerpts, an excellent way to show your heroes' flaws, but give us hope they can be redeemed.

Jannine Gallant said...

Thanks, Ally. You do write awesome villains!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Excellent discussion you've started, Jannine, and the excerpts are precious. We give flaws to our heroes to remind the reader of their 'everyman' status, but we also give them flaws to offset how much smarter, braver and, in the end, more loving they are than I could ever be. Make sense?

Jannine Gallant said...

Makes perfect sense, Rolynn!

Nancy Jardine said...

I think they do need some flaws because too perfect a guy isn't real. It's hard drawing the line though and making sure your hero is still veering towards the alpha and less than in the ...other direction.