Make Flawed Characters Likable

Today’s guest is Kristin Neva, an author and blogger who writes small-town fiction set on Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.

Kristin’s first book, Heavy, co-authored with her husband, Todd, journeys through the first year after Todd’s ALS diagnosis as the Nevas struggle to find meaning, hold on to faith, and discover joy in the midst of pain.

She will give a copy of her book Copper Country, A Copper Island Novel, to someone who comments, so please sign up.

3 Ways to Make Deeply Flawed Characters Likable

If you’ve ever interviewed for a job, you may have been asked about your greatest strengths and weaknesses. It’s a trick question. They’re looking for chinks in your armor.

You may have answered with a weakness that can only benefit your potential employer — “Sometimes I’m so dedicated to my work that I forget to eat lunch and I get really hungry.”

It’s a non-weakness.

If our characters are too perfect, our readers will write them off as unrealistic. Readers want flawed characters.

Some flaws are endearing. In a romance, we cheer for the nice guy who likes the girl but tries too hard. We laugh at the absent-minded professor and the clumsy detective.

But when we write about deep themes, we may want our characters to have deep flaws, even at the risk of making them less likable. A sarcastic waitress. A judgmental woman.

Flaws may be part of the character arc or necessary for the conflict, but the protagonist must still be likable.

Here are three ways to make deeply flawed characters likable:

  • Have her save a cat

In the 1978 Christopher Reeves movie, Superman literally saves a cat stuck in a tree in one of the opening scenes.

In my most recent novel, Copper Country, my main character has a sharp edge to her tongue. To make Aimee more likable, I inserted a intellectually disabled young man into an early scene with Aimee working at a diner so she could demonstrate her kind heart.

“I got three dollars and fifty-seven cents.” Mikey strewed crumpled bills and loose change on the counter.

“That’ll buy you whatever you want.” It didn’t matter how much he had, because Aimee always covered the rest from her tips.

  • Make the character recognize and regret her flaw.

In my first novel, Snow Country, Beth is interested in Danny, but she recoils when he tells her about his sexual past.

One of my beta-readers didn’t like my main character because she was judgmental, but that was one of the main conflicts driving the book. So I had Beth recognize and regret her flaw.

“I’ll go now.” He stood.

“Don’t go.” She held his forearm and pulled him back down to the chair. “I’m sorry I was judgmental. I don’t want to be like that.”

Her judgmental-ism continued to be an issue in the story, but her being self-aware of the flaw makes it more palatable.

  • Show potential for change.

Readers will tolerate a flawed central character if they see potential for change.

In my first novel, my main character Beth is not only judgmental, but also lacks confidence. Beth had just been jilted a few weeks before her wedding, and she is understandably upset. She is 25 years old, and she’d like to move on with her life, but her mother is super controlling.

My beta-readers were not really rooting for her, but they couldn’t quite put their finger on why not.

I learned that readers do not like weak characters. They’ll root for underdogs only when they show courage. But the central character arc of my first book was Beth developing sisu, which is the word Finnish-Americans use for resilience in the face of adversity.

Ultimately, I rewrote the opening scene in which her fiancé dumps her during their burrito lunch, giving her a little more spunk than she had in earlier drafts.

“We can still be friends.” He wiped his desk with a napkin.

Well, I like my friends so that’s not going to work, she thought. “Let me help you clean that up.” She swept both burritos into the garbage can.

“Hey, I was going to eat that.”

“I was going to marry you.” She plunked the can down next to him. “Go ahead. Eat it.” She twisted the engagement ring off her finger and was about to throw it at him, but then thought better of it. She stuffed it in her pocket and left.

Those are just three ideas to make flawed characters more likable. I’d love to read other ideas from you.

Comment below and we’ll enter your name in a drawing to win a copy of Kristin’s new novel, Copper Country.

Learn more about Kristin and explore Copper Island at KristinNeva.com

 

The Last Frontier

Today’s guest is Deborah Dee Harper, a writer from TennesseeHarper (2) who graduated from Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild where Misstep was a finalist in the 2009 Operation First Novel competition.  Recently, she moved to Eagle River, Alaska.  Read her post here and I’m sure you’ll want to grab one of her books.

Moving to the Last Frontier

My oldest daughter, her five-year-old daughter, and I recently made the 4,061 mile move from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to Eagle River, Alaska, which was viewed as ridiculous by most of our family members (and probably a few of the neighbors). Can’t say as I blame them. Yes, it was a drastic move, but also one we did not take lightly. We’d lived on Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage (ten miles south of Eagle River) from 2008 through 2012, so we were familiar with the vicinity, the weather, geography, and cost of living of the Last Frontier (not to be confused with William Shatner’s Final Frontier). It wasn’t unplanned by any stretch of the imagination. We thought long and hard about it, and in the end, decided to take the plunge.

Our reasons were many and varied. We love the wild, pristine, natural setting of Alaska. We look forward to watching bears, moose, eagles, foxes, wolves, beavers, and porcupines cross our paths (some of those more dangerous ones would be from the safety of our car), and love the magnificence of the scenery up here. The mountains, ocean, waterfalls, rivers, glaciers, lakes, streams, and unending forests are awe-inspiring. Yes, there are towns and cities like any other state, and to be honest, it’s getting harder every day to distinguish Anchorage (which, in my opinion, was once about fifty years behind the rest of the U.S. when it came to shopping, restaurants, etc.) from any city of the same size in the lower 48. But once you leave those towns and cities, you enter a wild paradise of natural wonders.

One of the reasons I was open to moving here was that it no longer matters where in the world a writer lives. The internet has made writing from anywhere possible. In the pre-internet years (remember those?), a writer’s proximity to the publishing meccas of the country was important. Snail mail made submitting an arduous process of writing, editing, finalizing, compiling the submissions packet, targeting your publishers, putting it in the mail, and then … waiting. And waiting. It could take a month, six months, a year. And even after waiting all that time, there was absolutely no guarantee 1.) they even got it, 2.) the person to whom it was addressed hadn’t left or died, 3.) it hadn’t been inadvertently tossed away, or 4.) it would be an acceptance. The internet and relatively instant submission process has certainly made a difference in that regard. But just as importantly, now that most of the civilized world is connected in one way or another to the internet, a writer can work from anywhere as long as he/she can reach that internet connection.

That’s important to me and to other writers who want to write from places that inspire them. Alaska does that for me. Whether or not we choose to stay in Alaska for a year, ten years, or longer, it’s important to me to know I can live where I want and still do what I enjoy—writing humorous and inspirational books.

If you’ve had any “adventurous” moves, tell us about them in a comment.  Thanks.

An Inrewrview with Eula Moore

Today I’m interviewing Eula Moore, the grandmother of Crystal Moore, heroine of A Ton of Gold and A Silver Medallion. Hello, Eula. How are you today?

EULA: I’m upright, and I’m talking, so I guess I’m doing pretty good.

JIM: Tell me about The Park, since it seems to play a big part in Crystal’s adventures.

EULA: The Park, that’s where I live, is where Crystal grew up. Her parents were both killed in a freak auto accident when Crystal was a little tyke. So she came to live with us at The Park. It’s 320- acres in the piney woods of east Texas. Dan and I bought it when we was first married. That was might near sixty years ago. Couldn’t afford it. But you know kids. We got it and made it work. It’s a beautiful places with a great lake, good fishing, nice hills, and lots a trees. Very peaceful. We named it The Park right after we move on it. Anyways, Crystal roamed around The Park from the time she was seven until she went off to college at S.M.U. and then Stanford. Course, now she lives in Dallas. Too much traffic and noise there for me.

JIM: You mentioned Dan. That’s Crystal’s granddad?

EULA: Was. He went to meet his maker a dozen years ago. My first and only true love. And a great Dad and Granddad for Crystal.

JIM: That must have been about the time Crystal left for S.M.U..

EULA: Right. S.M.U. and then rode off to Californi. Entered some kind a Ph.D. program or other.

JIM: Did she earn her doctorate?

EULA: Nope. Something happened just before she was to finish. Don’t know what, and she never would say. Didn’t want to talk about it. Never did. But, she thought she was just a few months from ending and she ups and leaves and comes home. Moped around The Park for months. Finally got a job at that info retrieval company where she works now. That has perked her up. She getting back to her old self.

JIM: This past year, she went down to Mexico to rescue some young girls. What did you think about that? I mean, she doesn’t seem like the adventure-seeking type to me.

EULA: She ain’t. And I thought it was a dumb thing to do. Could a got herself killed. But she’s got a soft spot for things that can’t help themselves. So, off she went.

JIM: Didn’t you try to stop her?

EULA: She a grown woman. And she’s got a strong head and, except for that fool thing, a good head on her shoulders. I told her it was a dumb idea. But she thought those kids would never be free unless she did something.

JIM: And she did rescue the girls and reunite them with their mother.

EULA: Yes sir. She did. Course then she had two crooks trying to kill here. Good thing she had her old Nana to help her take care of them skunks.

JIM: I’d love to hear the details of how you two captured two assassins.

EULA: And I’d love to tell you. But not today. I got a game of Mexican Train waiting for me. Don’t want to keep my friends waiting. You come on back another day and I’ll tell you how I captured those two bums. Well, actually it was Crystal and me. But right now, I gotta go. Bye.

JIM: And folks, she just took off. I never had an interview end so abruptly. We’ll get back with her on another day. Knowing what I’m finding out about Eula, I’m sure it will be an interesting story. That’s all for today.

 

 

 

 

 

The 10-day Writing Challenge

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This gallery contains 2 photos.

Today, Leeann Betts issues a challenge.  She writes contemporary suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical suspense. She has released five titles in her cozy mystery series, By the Numbers. In addition, Leeann has written a devotional for … Continue reading

Writing Your Family Story

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This gallery contains 2 photos.

Today’s guest blogger is Donna Schlachter.  She lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a … Continue reading

Fiction Needs Facts!

Today’s guest is a retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth.  He lives and writes in a house built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill Cody. He has published 16 novels, including six in his Sticks Hetrick crime series, plus a non-fiction regional history. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and is a past vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He currently serves as librarian of his county historical society, where he assists patrons with genealogy and research

If you write fiction, you have to pay attention to facts.

That may sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t meant to. Fiction offers a simulation of reality and if you wrongly portray something your reader knows as ‘fact’ you may be called out on it.

Suppose you’re writing a story set in Arizona in the 1870s (as I did with Geronimo Must Die). You can rely on imagination and create a world to suit your purpose. That’s called fantasy and, if your reader is informed that’s the intent, it’ll probably be accepted without question.

On the other hand, if you want your reader to believe the story is set in this place and time, it becomes important to express things as they actually were. You can twist things a little to suit your purpose (that’s called fiction), so long as your reader is willing to accept them. For instance, your reader will accept your character riding a horse or mule but may frown if you seat them on a dragon (that would be fantasy).

There are two methods. One is called empathy. The other is research.

Empathy is vicariously experiencing the emotion, thought or action of another person. This is a useful tool for a writer in many circumstances. However it has its limits. Some characteristics are timeless. But you live in the 21st century and attitudes today differ to a certain degree from those of the 19th century. How can you know what’s true today was also true then?

The answer is through research. You don’t have a time machine, but we do have a good substitute to give us some idea of what life was like in those days. Reading biographies, histories and fiction of the period provides some insight. These sources were important to me in accurately depicting the Apache and life on the San Carlos reservation. An even better choice for general historical fiction is newspapers of the period. Newspapers reflect the character of the times in which they’re created–they show us what was important to people, what they did with their time, their morals, their prejudices. Everything you need to create a believable character of the period.

These newspapers are available in collections at historical societies, in many libraries and even on line. Librarians are good at telling us where to find newspapers to suit our needs. Reading them is fun and sure to stimulate your imagination.

Here’s a blurb for Geronimo Must Die:

Geronimo and rascally half-breed Indian scout Mickey Free have never been friends.

Yet, Mickey has already saved Geronimo’s life twice (without acknowledgement) and is the only one who can keep the great Apache leader out of the sniper’s sights now. The sniper has already murdered several tribal leaders and Mickey believes it’s all a plot to prompt a great runaway from the hated San Carlos reservation.

Mickey’s efforts are stymied by Al Sieber, head of scouts, and John Clum, reservation agent, as well as suspicion of other Indians. Adding to his problems, Mickey is in love with a girl whose name he keeps forgetting to ask and who may be allied to the plot.

Only perseverance, risk to his life and, eventually, Geronimo’s help will enable Mickey to resolve this dangerous situation.

Lindermuth’s  latest novel, Geronimo Must Die, a classic Western, was released on March 28 by Sundown Press.

 https://www.amazon.com/Geronimo-Must-Die-J-Lindermuth-ebook/dp/B06XFZJG5H/ref=la_B002BLJIQ8_1_20?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1490444850&sr=1-20&refinements=p_82%3AB002BLJIQ8

 

 

The King and I

Today, Steve Sabatka, talks about growing up watching the early animated movies when each scene would require twenty-four graphic panels for a single second of a movie.  Steve lives in Newport, Oregon and teaches at Newport High School.  Steve writes short stories (has won the NETWO short story contest one year) and in 2016, published a young adult novel about teenagers finding a … well, I’d better let Steve tell you.

  1. I was five years old, watching that classic old flick, King Kong, and losing my little boy mind. Drum-beating natives. Hungry dinosaurs. Wild, throbbing orchestral music. And a giant gorilla with rolling eyes and great, fearsome teeth – fighting biplanes from atop the highest building in the world. It was better than any three ring circus or screaming carnival ride. But when Kong, shaggy, bleeding, and defeated, let go and fell one hundred and two stories to the Manhattan pavement, I lost it, son, flipped out, crying and screaming so loudly that my dad thought a police car, old-style siren blaring, had pulled up in our front yard. The King was dead and I was not happy about it. Dad consoled my by explaining that Kong wasn’t dead – because he’d never really been alive. It had all been a trick. A special effect.

In time, I learned that Kong was a puppet, basically, just eighteen inches tall, with metal joints under layers of rubber and trimmed rabbit fur, and that an ex-boxer and newspaper cartoonist named Willis O’Brien brought the mighty ape, to life, one frame of movie film at a time, just like Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck, and that one fleeting second of snarling, chest-beating action required twenty four separate poses, twenty four clicks of the camera shutter. I could imagine Mister O’Brien going off to work every morning – with a briefcase full of toy monsters and dinosaurs – and being paid to play with them all day.

I wanted to be a monster tamer, too. Just like O’Brien and Harryhausen and all the other movie magicians, the names you see at the end of movies like Mighty Joe Young and Jason and the Argonauts and When Dinosaurs Rules the Earth. So I started making my own monsters out of dime store modeling clay – with toothpick points for teeth and eyes that were sucked-down lemon drops – posing them, a millimeter or two at a time, and then snapping off frame after frame of eight millimeter, Kodachrome film.

When the finished film came back from the pharmacy, I would thread up the projector, hit the lights, and then stare, awestruck, as my homemade creatures prowled across the white wall of my bedroom – on their own, as if they had been resurrected from their fossil tombs to growl and shake the earth once more. It was truly magic – and the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

But then, as I got older, something very sad happened – just like in the folk song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Clay monsters and dinosaurs made room for other toys. I grew up, went to school, got a job as a school teacher, and pretty much gave up on making monster movies. I also started writing. A lot of short stories. Two bad novels. Strangely, monsters kept cropping up in my stories. Aliens. Dinosaurs, too. I even wrote a very short sequel to King Kong, entitled Fall Guy.

Jurassic Park all but killed the art of stop motion. Made it extinct. And so gone are the days when folks would walk out of a theater after seeing The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, say, or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, asking. “How did they do that?” Everybody knows the three letter answer: CGI. Computer Generated Imagery. Monsters have become nothing more than a file on an ILM desktop.

I miss the old days. And I want younger folks to know about my heroes and all their frame-by-frame voodoo. So I wrote a young adult novel about a teenage monster nerd (me, basically), and his two oddball buddies – a Vietnamese refugee, and a 250 pound wrestler – trying to explain the scaly, hairy, multi-toothed horror that has just washed up dead on the Oregon Coast.

My book, Mister Fishback’s Monster, was recently unleashed on an unsuspecting world by Black Bed Sheet Books, and, from what I’m told, it was their bestselling young adult title for 2016.

The back cover of my book reads like a B-movie poster:

“Ravenous beasts from the dawn of time! Gun packin’ roller derby queens! Chattering freaks, belched up from the ocean floor! Bug-eyed Martian bullies! Political intrigue! Corporate corruption! Bigfoot! Blood! Guts! Pam Grier!”

Mister Fishback’s Monster is funny. A little creepy. And the special effects are amazing.

I hope you’ll check it out. And I hope to hear from my fellow stop motion maniacs. I’ll send a free copy to the person that can tell me (via Facebook) the name of the unsung hero, the amazingly talented man that actually made Kong (and all the other denizens of Skull Island) out of so much rubber and cotton and metal before handing them, lifeless, over to Willis O’Brien.

 Postscript:

I was fortunate enough to meet Fay Wray in person several years before she passed. I told her about freaking out when I was a kid and how I had hoped she and Kong would’ve lived happily ever after. Ms. Wray gave me the kind of expression usually reserved for the hopelessly delusional and said, “Surely, now that you’re older, you understand that the relationship was not very practical.”

Or something like that.

I guess she was right.

But still.

 

 

JIM:  We love for you to leave a comment.  Thanks.

How Two Covers Came About

Talented and prolific writer Jim Ainsworth has a book launch of two books at the same time.  (I said he was prolific.)  It will be from 5 to 8 p.m.  March 28 at the A&M-Commerce (Texas) Alumni Center.  Because it is unusual to do two books at once, I’ve asked Jim to tell us the story behind the covers of the two books.  Very interesting.

Circle of Hurt – We worked diligently to come up with real photos that matched my description of the general store, the table and chairs, the ambiance of the place, but we just could not make it work.  I decided a shack might work, with wooden boards as the background.

The real picker shack was clearly in my mind, but it is long gone. My wife, Jan, suggested we drive around and look at cabins, shacks. As we drove by my cousin Marion’s cabin, Jan pulled over.

“What about that one?”

“That cabin is only a few years old. The picker shack would have been maybe a hundred years old when the novel takes place.”

Jan smiled. “Yes, but wasn’t this one built to look old?”

She was right. Marion’s cabin was a cross between the picker shack in the book and Tee Jessup’s rented farmhouse. It could serve as either. And Marion would be pleased.

Sure enough, the table where we had weekly poker games looked ready for players. I realized that this setting, the old jukebox and a few other things might have partially inspired the scenes inside the general store described in the book.

After what seemed dozens of shots, I turned and saw Jan with her camera inches from the wall, snapping more photos.

I was puzzled. “What are you doing?”

She kept on clicking. “You said you wanted boards for the background, didn’t you?”

Days later, she showed me her concept, saying, “I feel as if I’m on the inside of the cozy cabin stealing a look at the story that is taking place outside.” That worked for me.

She and Vivian Freeman got together on the concept and colors and the rope and that’s how the cover of Circle of Hurt came to be.

Believing in a Grand Thing – My original idea for the cover was a cowboy or western scene on the front—maybe a kneeling cowboy with a cross in the background. But we see of lot of those in yards all around. We tried a few photos in public domain, but the lights just did not come on for me.

Something about the way the cowboys (or models) sat their horses; or the way they put their boots in the stirrups; or the way they held the reins; or the way they wore their hats always bothered me. Something just wasn’t right and I couldn’t express what.

Again, my wife Jan came through. “Do you still have that shot of Marion on his horse at his daddy’s grave?” Marion was a close cousin of mine.

The photo was taken on the next to last day of our wagon and horseback trip across Texas that I chronicled in Biscuits Across the Brazos. We were almost home, coming to the end of our fourteen day, 325 mile journey when it was taken.

I saw Marion lope ahead as we neared Shiloh Cemetery and knew where he was going. When he stopped at his father’s grave, I pulled a throwaway camera I had bought on the trail out of my saddlebags and took the shot. I knew it was a special moment, but never imagined it would one day be on the cover of a book. Of course, it is also inside Biscuits Across the Brazos.

If you look closely, you will see a slight hazy glow around Marion and his horse’s back legs. Unintended, but I like that a lot. I am certain Marion would, too.

Marion’s mom now lies beside his father and Marion is laid to rest a few feet away.

Try to visit the launch party.  There you can ask Jim Ainsworth questions about the books, the covers, or anything, for that matter.  I highly recommend it as a pleasant, fun, informative trip.