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 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

Mixing History with A Fiction Novel

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Elaine Faber is a member of Sisters in Crime, Inspire Christian Writers, and Cat Writers Association. She lives in Northern California with her husband and three housecats. She volunteers at the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop in Elk Grove, CA. … Continue reading

The Hard Work of Telling the Truth:

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D.R. Ransdell is a writer and musician. She spent five years in Mexico teaching English and learning folk songs. Now, she plays with a mariachi group and writes a murder mystery series about mariachi bandleader Andy Veracruz. She also teaches writing at … Continue reading

Should She Risk All?

An Interview with Crystal Moore, the heroine in A Silver Medallion

JIM: Well, let’s just jump right into it. Why on earth did you decide to go to Mexico when you knew how ruthless Jose Rodriquez de Allende was? First, are you an adventurer, a thrill seeker?

CRYSTAL: You didn’t waste any time getting to that. To answer your question, no I am not a thrill seeker, or an adventurer. The most dangerous thing I’ve ever done was say “No” to a man who had never heard that word. As to why I went, that’s a question I’ve heard a lot- sometimes even from myself. Do you want the long answer or the short answer?

JIM: Let’s start with the short.Cover - A Silver Medallion

CRYSTAL: Because of the threat to kill her two little girls if she tried to escape, or even told anybody of her situation, Lucita would never escape. She would spend her entire life a slave. But, if I could rescue her two children from Jose, she would be happy to try to escape.

JIM: But Jose was a powerful and vengeful man.

CRYSTAL: Now we’re into the long answer. First, I was naive. I wasn’t prepared for just how evil the man was. And living in a society where one can depend on the police to help, I naturally thought I’d have some good local or state police help. That turned out to be foolish on my part.

JIM: Okay. I understand part of it. But this was such a risky business, I know you had other reasons. Come on, tell us.

CRYSTAL: I guess the biggest one came from my own life. My parents were killed in a car accident when I was seven. It was such a difficult time for me, for a long time. But, nothing could be done about that. They were gone, dead. No one could help me. Of course, I had loving grandparents who took me in and gave me a secure, loving home. Still, it was very difficult. Twenty years later, I could still feel the pain. Now, I’m not saying anything against my grandparents. They were the best. Grand Dad has passed, but Nana and I are still really close. She’s my best friend. I love her a lot, and she thinks I’m pretty special.

But these two little girls didn’t have grandparents. They were virtual slaves themselves, living under a brutal man. They had no one to look after them, to try to give them a happy childhood. Yet, there was something that could be done to help them. Rescue them from Jose.

Of course, there was another powerful reason. Once I talked with the mother, had pictures of the girls, I couldn’t sleep. I would have nightmares about their treatment. I became a prisoner of their large brown eyes. I swear, I would wake up thinking I heard them crying. If I wanted to have a normal life again, I had to, at least, try to rescue them.

JIM: I’m beginning to understand why you went. But did you really think you would succeed? I mean, this was a powerful man, with many henchmen, in a foreign country.

iguana 5SCRYSTAL: You understand the dangers. Well, actually, I didn’t until I met Juan Grande. He made the dangers quite clear to me. But, you fix your mind on what you want to achieve. You don’t think about failure. You say, whatever the worse case is, I will figure out a way to make it through.

JIM: Okay. You’ve convinced me. You should have gone. But one last question. Did anyone else think you should go? Maybe Lucita.

CRYSTAL: No. No one. Nana, who can face down the devil, said I shouldn’t go. Brandi, as brash as they come, said it was a dumb idea. And Mark, a former bull rider, didn’t want me to go. Even Lucita had her doubts. She feared if I tried and failed, her children might suffer the consequences. Her fears almost stopped me.

JIM: That’s all we have time for today, I’m afraid. Another time, I want to know how your boyfriend took the news you were off to fight the devil himself. But we’ll need more time for that. Thanks for being so open and honest in your answers. I look forward to reading the full account in A Silver Medallion.

Readers, what do you think?  Should she have gone into Mexico?  Leave a comment and tell us whether you think she should have gone.  Thanks.  You can get all the details in A Silver Medallion, on Amazon at:

Kindle: http://amzn.to/1WxoEaF

Paperback:     http://amzn.to/28LIdWs

A Silver Medallion is a gripping, action-packed adventure from talented author James Callan.  Crystal Moore is a tough and savvy heroine …

 New York Times Bestselling Author Bobbi Smith

 

James Callan’s A Silver Medallion is a fine blend of colorful characters, action, suspense, and serious.  Crystal Moore and her grandmother, Eula, are a great team as they take on modern-day slavery and academic fraud in this nonstop novel.  Check it out!

 Bill Crider, best-selling author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series

 This book by Mr. Callan kept me hooked from the very beginning. Drawing a plot that seemed to leap from the headlines, he writes with a page turning intensity that will leave the reader satisfied. Crystal Moore is a heroine you can fall in love with. A woman willing to stand by her convictions of right and wrong, even if it means putting herself in danger, to accomplish her goal of righting the wrongs in the world.

Amazon Customer – Abookanight

Once I began reading it, putting it down became the challenge.

Amazon Review – Mary Turner

Cats Give Way to WWII

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Today’s guest is Elaine Faber, the California writer who generally has a cat as the chief sleuth.  She departs from that to bring us a story centered around World War II in her latest novel, Mrs. Odboddy – Hometown Patriot. (Of … Continue reading

Postmark from the Past

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Today, I’m interviewing Vickie Phelps, a woman who has published over 200 articles in both regional and national magazines.  She has also published five gift books with Barbour Publishing and is the co-author with Jo Huddleston of How to Write … Continue reading

4 Tips All Writers Can Use

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Today, Jennifer Slattery is offering four tips that all writers can use.  Jennifer writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers.  Her debut novel, Beyond I Do, was released last summer and her latest, When Dawn Breaks, released in December. Here’s Jennifer’s tips. … Continue reading