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.

The 10-day Writing Challenge

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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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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

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.

When Someone Walks Through Your Door

A few years ago, my wife and I were in Oklahoma to remodel a house we owned on some acreage. Much work needed to be done. There was an enormous room that could be converted into two good sized bedrooms. We needed to remodel one of the bathrooms and completely redo the kitchen – new cabinets, new hot water heater, and on and on.

The house is in a thinly populated area, with few close neighbors. We were quite surprised one day when a man walked into the house and started watching our efforts. He made suggestions on how we might accomplish a task more easily.

After awhile, he asked, “Are you staying here at night?”

It was clear no one was staying in this house at night. There was no furniture, and it was certainly not fit for sleeping. I said, no, we were staying in a nearby motel.

He looked around at our tools and asked, “Do you leave your tools here at night?”

This gave me pause. Why did he want to know about our tools? Finally I said we locked the place up when we left, trying to make it sound like it was secure. It wasn’t all that secure.

He acknowledged my statement, turned around and disappeared.

We didn’t know what to think. We had come from Texas in a small Ranger pickup. Space didn’t allow for many tools, and certainly nothing large. Still, there were several power tools that would be a little expensive to replace.

About thirty minutes later, the man walked in again. “My name is Gary. If you will really lock things up tight, I’ve got some power tools that will make your job easier.” He produced a nail gun with various attachments for heavy work or trim work. He offered other tools to make the installation of door hardware easier, faster, and more professionally done.

He said he wouldn’t always be around to either deliver or take back the tools, so he would leave them in my care.

Over the next few weeks, he popped in frequently, always with some sound advice, usually with other tools. And when we were ready to paint the outside, he provided a professional paint sprayer and hoses.

Now, years later, we are still good friends with Gary.

In m y newest novel, A Silver Medallion, a young Mexican walks into Crystal Moore’s life, as unexpected as Gary was to us. But in my novel, it is the young woman who needs help. She has been a slave in modern day Texas, held, not by chains, but by threats to kill her husband still in Mexico. By accident, she learns her husband has died, so she escapes. She tells Crystal of another woman held slave by threats to kill her two children left in Mexico.

Crystal lost her parents when she was seven. She identifies with the plight of the two young girls in Mexico, held captive, not knowing if their mother was alive or not. Crystal knows the woman will never escape as long as her children are held hostage.

The only way to free the mother is to first rescue the children. Crystal tries to put this out of her mind. It is not her problem. But her conscience will not allow that. After many sleepless nights, Crystal realizes she must travel to Mexico and try to rescue the girls. Only then can she help the mother escape.

When someone walks into your life, you will be affected, one way or another. Expect it. Make the most of it. It is usually easier to ignore the person. But look on it as an opportunity. It could be an important one.

James R. Callan,  2017

 

 

The Joy of Creating Characters

Jean Lauzier loves to play in all the different genres, but especially  mystery and fantasy.

She is a member of several writer’s groups and  president of the East Texas Writer’s Association. When not writing,
she enjoys reading, trying to grow bonsai trees, training dogs,  editing, and mentoring other writers.

“Fictional characters are made of words, not flesh; they do not have free will, they do not exercise volition. They are easily born, and as easily killed off.” ― John Banville

I’m not sure who John Banville is, but I have to disagree. At least for myself. I have one of those obsessive personalities and when I’m writing, I live and breathe my characters. I think about their likes and dislikes, how their past affects their present, and just what they want out of life.

Sometimes, I even forget they aren’t real. For example, one day while in the middle of a writing session, a song came on the radio and I realized Cande would have listened to and liked that song. Now, Cande is a character in a mystery novel I’m editing, but we’re also best friends. I know about the time she tried to paint her pony black because she wanted to go as the headless horseman for Halloween. I know how she defends those being bullied, her soft spot for animals, and how much she loves settling in front of a fire with a cup of hot cocoa. She’s a person I’d really like to hang out with.

I also know that as her writer, I can’t get her to do something against her nature. At the end of the novel, I really wanted her to take justice in her own hands and off the bad guy. But that’s not her. Yes, she’s an emotional wreck because of what she thinks he has done, but she believes in doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. And that is one of the things I love about her.

Another thing I love is when a character just appears and refuses to disappear. While writing Dragons of Jade, I was typing along in the groove, and a dog appeared in a scene. I didn’t want a dog in the book so backspaced and deleted him. A few sentences later, my character opened the door and in bounded the dog. He had a name, a personality, and I knew exactly what he looked like. I thought about deleting him again but just couldn’t. Turns out, he was an important part of the story.

Some authors seem to have no problem killing their characters. I read the Game of Thrones series and every time I became attached to a character, they turned up dead. I’d be a blubbering puddle of tears if I killed off as many characters as he has.

Once I read we need to get our characters up trees and then throw rocks at them while setting the tree on fire. I have a hard time doing that, especially with characters I love. I want things to go right for them. I want them to succeed and be happy. It’s something my editor says I need to work on. And, I am trying.

Creating characters is one of the fun things about being a writer. I learn about their jobs, their culture, and just what makes them tick. Then, we hang out in front of the fireplace sipping hot cocoa and telling stories.

You can find more about Jean on  her Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/jeanlauzier2319

All her  books are available on Amazon or can be ordered from any bookstore.

 

 

 

A NaNoWriMo Education

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Galand Nuchols is a retired school teacher.  While teaching, she found that writing short stories that incorporated the names of students helped to improve their interest and motivated them to work harder.  At the same time, she found she really … Continue reading