Flawed Characters

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Fung Koo, Jan 18, 2010.

  1. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    I'm hoping for some advice on constructing flawed characters.

    We all know the stereotypical stock SFF characters who are Masters of Everything -- and when they're not, they're Masters of Figuring Everything Out (and really, what, then, is the difference?). While these characters will often have their personal issues/demons, they more-or-less unflawed. And then there's the opposite sort, where a character's flaw ends up becoming their undoing -- the Tragic Flaw. Between them, these two extremes account for a good many characters in SFF, typically split between Heroes and Villains, respectively. What I'm wondering about are the characters in the middle of these two extremes.

    Oftentimes, the typical construction of a flawed character seems to take the same route as a prospective employee in a job interview answering the question "what would you consider your most significant flaw?" The prospective employee almost universally answers by selecting a strength that, when pushed to the extreme, becomes a comparative weakness. "Well, I'm sometimes overly dedicated to a task," for example. Which is kinda like saying, "sometimes I'm too good at my job." Not really a flaw -- for the sake of argument, let's call these weak flaws.

    A quick flip-through of the books on my shelf indicates that a good many SFF characters are constructed with precisely this model (and it's certainly not a criticism new to SFF). Start with a desirable character attribute then push it into the negative to create a flaw. (These are often categorized as minor flaws, though I think of them more as simply character attributes.)

    So on the one hand, you have your Paul Atreides, Luke Skywalker, Aragorn types. They have personal backgrounds that give them certain emotional shortcomings, but those shortcomings almost always are part of how that character matures (gods with daddy issues, anyone?). These aren't always flaws so much as they're foils for character development.

    (Note: there's absolutely nothing wrong with these sorts of characters -- it's just not the point of my question. Forgive me if my simplification of them rankles :))

    Then, on the other hand, you have your Lannister, Anakin Skywalker, Boromir, Thomas Covenant, Roland Deschain, Cheradenine Zakalwe types. These guys have real, significant flaws -- actual cracks in their characters -- that lead them into sticky situations, often requiring others to step in for them. They tend not to have an abundance of control, or even awareness, of their flaws. Which is to say, their character flaws will often come to affect and shape the master-plot, and aren't primarily there for character development sub-plots. These aren't so much Anti-Heroes, either (though I wouldn't consider that a flaw-exclusive [or even flaw-dependent] character type).

    I find I can construct a weakly-flawed character (the extreme-attribute-as-flaw type) with comparative ease. Tragically Flawed characters and Anti-Heroes, likewise. But the actually flawed character is much harder for me to do. I find that they're especially difficult in longer works -- suddenly one flawed character ends up doing something that makes sense for that character, but throws the whole story plan off. These characters seem to have a tendency to become the focus of the story (characters gaining agency in directing your story seems to be an irritating, but essential, side effect of flawed characters). This situation often gets out of hand, to the point that I'll lose the thread and have to walk away. I've tried to plan for moments where the character's flaw comes into the plot, but then the whole thing feels contrived. Or I end up with a plot that relies on flaws becoming relevant at key moments (like in the movie Cube, for example) -- which also comes off as contrived.

    So...

    Does anyone have any advice on how to go about constructing a good, flawed character? How do you make your own flawed characters, how do you use them, how do you introduce them and their flaws to your story, and why why why?

    Any help, whether it be pointed advice or pointless musing, is greatly appreciated. :)
     
  2. kmtolan

    kmtolan KMTolan

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    While this is certainly a widely interpretable subject, my one thought is consistency with the flaw. The character should be expected to react in the same manner when given the usual stimuli to set this flaw off. I love flawed main characters - Julian May's "Felice" in her "Many Colored Land" series was the best example - the girl made a psychotic murderess look tame, yet she had a perfectly stable reason for why she acted like she did.

    When I served up a flaw in my MC, I quickly ran into an issue with my Third Person, Limited point of view. My character simply couldn't see the flaw in themselves, hence the reader was in danger of not noticing it either. The best I could do was to have this flaw pointed out to her by other characters, allowing the reader, should they choose to, review what they knew of the MC so far and realize...yeah, there's a flaw.

    I can't stress, though, how you must stay on top of your MC concerning any flaw. Until something deep and meaningful steps in, they are going to continue doing the wrong thing, and more often than not it will be a subtle thing.

    Kerry
     
  3. jordanlanni

    jordanlanni Registered User

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    Excellent question. We need flawed characters because flaws make us human and thus easier to relate to than the "gods" characters you named (though some SW fans would argue that Luke's whining is a tragic flaw ;)).

    When I write a flawed character, I strive to make them well-rounded - he or she must be shown to have good points along with bad (but I think that goes for "flawed" vs. "perfect" in general). If I'm going to use a flawed character, I will try to design a story arc around those flaws to show growth even if they don't realize their mistake or their flaw until it's too late.
     
  4. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    All characters are flawed. You're not talking about doing a flawed character but about how to use flaws in characters in relation to story roles. And this sentence: "They tend not to have an abundance of control, or even awareness, of their flaws. Which is to say, their character flaws will often come to affect and shape the master-plot, and aren't primarily there for character development sub-plots." is incorrect when it comes to Lannister, Boromir, Thomas Covenant, etc.

    So my advice first off is same as I always do -- stop trying to put them all in little boxes: simple flaw, tragically flawed, anti-hero, etc., and then complaining when they don't stay in them. Essentially, forget that big ball of lit knowledge you have with all those lovely terms, because you're so busy dividing things up into categories that it is not productive and tends to cause giant generalizations.

    Your first issue is that you're wrestling between character logic and story logic. You have your story logic planned out (psychologist,) but you're trying to do your characters at least partly organically (detective,) which for you provides a disconnect. You may find some of the flawed characters you're coming up with are just far more interesting to you than others. So your right brain says, "I'm going this way," and your left brain says, "No, we're supposed to be going that way," and your right brain says, "Well then he's boring," and your Editor's Hat comes in too early and fears everything proposed is contrived, which is another way of saying, "it doesn't feel right to me."

    So you may need to assess what story you want to tell, first off, even if it is one with a plot structure you don't consider as daring. You may be planning too much in advance for your process, which is usually what it means when you have characters who are able to send you off track a lot. You maybe are supposed to go off track and go write that story. Or more than one version of a story. Characters are intimately connected to plot and action -- one does not move without the other for the most part. The decision of how much one shapes the other and vice versa is one of the main juggling acts of fiction writing. So if your flawed characters are shaping your plot, maybe they are supposed to. Alternatively, you could approach it as picking character flaws to match your plot -- the what do I need process, rather than trying to come up with an interesting plot on one hand and an interesting character flaw on the other.

    Every character operates by an interactive, dependent triangle: reaction to what's happening or other data, motivation for that particular character and decision-making, which together lead to action. So your flawed characters' triangles are not leading to the actions you want. So you can either change the aspects of the character, and his or her triangle, or you can change the action, or both. That way character logic and story logic line up. The harder part is deciding which aspect is most important to you for that story.

    As for contrived, you know that word shouldn't even come up in your mind during the first draft.
     
  5. Jon Sprunk

    Jon Sprunk Book of the Black Earth

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    The types of flaws you are talking about are extremely difficult to carry through novel-size projects for several reasons. You already hit on one of them: they can hijack the plot.

    Another is reader identification. Few people want to identify closely with a sociopath. Whatever flaws a main character has, they must be outweighed by that character's strengths and admirable qualities.
     
  6. MuchAdoAboutSFF

    MuchAdoAboutSFF Alien In Disguise

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    Be careful. Flaws can make character repulsive too. Many writers seem to think *any* flaw makes the character intresting.

    Also, seek complexity. Real world example: I have a friend who is a veritable genius. He would be good template for this SFF hero in that sense. But he's terribly antisocial, no people skills whatsoever. Complexity.

    Sympathetic characters are hard to build.
     
  7. Hereford Eye

    Hereford Eye Just Another Philistine

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    There are flaws that characters are aware they possess and flaws they have no clue they possess. Take prejudice. There are too many people who are unaware of their prejudices though the prejudices do, in fact, exist. I suspect that every person alive carries some prejudices around and most of us aren’t aware we do. The awareness of the flaw dictates how the character responds to instances of its applicability. If aware, they react one way; unaware, another.
    An annoying laugh is a flaw that most people will be unaware they possess. A favorite phrase that seems to be the limit of their vocabulary. A need to touch or a need for space.
    Human things, not heroic in any sense. These are the flaws that make people interesting, even necessary to being able to appreciate them.
     
  8. Sparrow

    Sparrow Banned

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    I would say "be brave" when creating a flawed protagonist. Make him or her unattractive, even unlikeable. I'm currently reading a historical crime novel set in Henry VIII's England. The novel is Dissolution, and the main character is Matthew Shardlake, a hunchbacked lawyer investigating a series of murders under the watchful eye of his boss, Lord Thomas Cromwell.

    Aside from Shardlake's obvious physical flaws, a hunchback who even if you discount his birth defect is short and slightly ugly, he is a man given to quick temper and jealousy, and at times a coward. He is part of a fundamentally corrupt political movement which has one end in mind, dissolution of the Catholic Church in England. That he knows what he does is oftentimes morally suspect yet is able to continue by telling himself, essentially, "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs", makes it all the more strange that you can still feel for him, and hope he survives.

    I'm noticing characters from StarWars listed as examples?.. these are not characters in any real sense, and should not be used as a template. In fact if as a reader you find yourself identifying with such characters, you may want to do some soul-searching.;)
     
  9. keatskeatskeats

    keatskeatskeats bcitsndslkSKEETSKEETSKEET

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    wherein i make a bad joke

    Just think, if he was born a couple hundred years later, Shardlake would have made a good agent.

    but rilly, there should be more novels about agents being devious and seeking out The Next Big Thing (good title for a beach read~~~)
     
  10. ShellyS

    ShellyS Chocoholic

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    First, I think you need to decide what "flaw" means to you. For me, an abundance or limited amount of nearly any personality trait can be a flaw. Too much pride or too little can lead a character into trouble. Same for stubbornness. Some can be good, your character won't give up easily and will likely succeed. Too little and he gives up. Too much and he keeps going even when everyone else would retreat and he could end up hurt, dead, in jail, whatever.

    Physical flaws can have a similar effect. Take someone who has a physical disability, or perhaps a mental or developmental deficiency. Some characters will let that rule them, keep them from accomplishing things and the plot can help prod them out of their complacency. Others will defy their disabilities and push onward toward success, perhaps due to stubbornness or perhaps due to being very goal oriented.

    Personality traits don't exist independently. Each feeds into and off the others. My protag in my WIR originally didn't work because I made him too complacent, too willing to follow along and not make waves due to a big failure in his past. So, I backtracked and retooled him, just a bit, making him a bit more stubborn. Also more curious and resentful of people trying to tell him what to do. He snapped out of his complacency and started moving ahead, forging through scenes and plot points to climax and conclusion.

    And what was most fun, was that once I did this, I realized other characters were using his stubbornness and curiosity and inner need to do the right thing to manipulate him into doing what he normally would do if he hadn't been feeling a bit sorry for himself. Everything came together.
     
  11. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    Thanks, all, for your feedback so far. I'm going to respond to a couple specifically, so please excuse the double-postings!

    Interesting point on how the narrative POV can come into play. So in this instance, you had the flaw revealed through other character interactions in the end. That strikes me as a sensible -- the strategy I've ended up primarily employing is using my other characters to limit the exposure/effect of the flaw on the story. In many cases this does the job, but definitely not always.

    Do you find that any particular POV gives you more or less issues when it comes to flawed characters in your story? (Obviously it's all just in how you handle it -- but given that writing is a deeply personal experience, I'm wondering if you, personally, find a given POV easier than another. Right now I'm looking at several different stories that have hit major roadblocks thanks to character flaws, and there's three first persons and four third limiteds and three third omnis... so I'm all over the map at the mo.)

    A few follow-on questions: how many narrative points of view in 3rd Limited did your story contain? Just the one? If so, did your character come to realize their flaw and "get over it" -- or not?

    And, in addition to adding character interactions to reveal the flaw, is there anything else you tried as a get-around? Switching perspective to 1st or 3rd Omni? Adding a character perspective?
     
  12. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    Yes, but I'm not talking about minor flaws that mostly affect things like demeanour, tone of voice, outlook on life, etc. I'm specifically having trouble with characters whose flaws are potentially plot-destroying level -- characters with homicidal urges, ideologues, split personalities, hubris, phobias, etc.

    In some respects, the question I'm asking is akin to: How do you keep a Major Flaw from becoming a Tragic Flaw?

    Bang on. I have characters with Major Flaws that are hijacking the story. Mostly this hijacking occurs incrementally -- a little here, a little there, and 30 pages later a huge, unanticipated problems rears its head. Character logic demands one thing, and story logic demands another. For perhaps 75k words (in one example), the story and character logic flow along fine, working in harmony. But then, disaster: one of my Major Flawed characters' next logical actions would, according to the story logic, result in his death and thus prematurely end my story. What I want to know is -- (ideally) how do I get out of this bind without scrapping 50k words of my story?

    (I am prepared to scrap it if I have to, but I would really prefer not to... :()

    So, a few concrete things to try from your suggestions:

    1. Assess -- What story do I want to tell? With respect to my characters, what story am I actually telling? Can the two meet somehow?
    2. Is there too much planning? Not enough?
    3. Is there an alternate version of the scene/story that could be told?
    4. Can you adjust the plot to remove the problem? Can you adjust the character to remove the problem?

    Good stuff so far. #4 is the situation I'd prefer to avoid, as some of the characters I'm referring to have been developing over the space of 100 pages or more.

    Some other things I've tried:

    1. Is there a detail/scene introduced earlier in the story leading to the problem-scene that can be modified, removed, or relocated?
    2. Can the problem-scene be told from a different character's perspective?
    3. If the problem-scene is carried to its logical, problematic conclusion, can the story continue regardless? If not, is the story that would follow more interesting or less interesting than the story that fell apart? (i.e. -- am I actually just worldbuilding? Or am I really telling my story?)
    4. Is it too early to resolve the Flaw? Can flaw-resolving elements be added earlier in the story to create an out?

    Anything else?
     
  13. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    OK, so I've got:

    1. Hijacking the Plot (flaw becomes dominant feature)
    2. Overpowering the Other Characters (making other characters seem weak or underdeveloped)
    3. Presentational Issues/Exposition (how do you convincingly illustrate passive/aggressive? hubris? sociopathology? autism? etc)
    4. Reader Identification (reader taste -- not a big concern for me at this point. First mission is to finish a novel-length project :))
    5. Politics (again, reader taste more than anything)
    6. Masking a Weak Plot with Strong Characters

    Got any more "extremely difficult flaws to manage in long fiction" to add to the list?

    Are there any flaws that you, personally, steer away from entirely? (For whatever reason -- you as an author personally find X type of flaw difficult to imagine and therefore depict; X flaw is too repulsive; X flaw is too political; etc -- Don't worry, I won't take your opinion as "you should never, ever..." I'm just curious about how you, personally, manage the issue of Flawed Characters, not in universal rules. Just building some context to approach the issue myself with respect to my own strengths/weaknesses :))
     
  14. E_Moon

    E_Moon Registered User

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    Plot flows out of character--it's not (or shoudln't be) imposed on character.

    The complexity of your character--which will, if you do it right, include a melange of flaws at all levels, some the character knows and some he doesn't--determines what kind of plot you're going to have.

    If you just want to play with plot--if you want characters obedient to plot--then what you're saying is you want tools, not characters. In that case, you will have to work backwards: given the plot you want, what character flaws make sense and will produce the actions you desire for the plot? It is possible to write fiction this way, but it's certainly not the easiest way.

    For instance, the easy way to write plot-first fiction is to make your characters very simple, the shallower and less complex the better. Then they do what you want, because they have no depth. You've already said you don't like this kind of character. To give retro-fitted characters the complexity and depth you seem to want, you'll have to plot first--sort of constructing a suit of armor into which you'll fit someone--and then, looking at the whole plot, figure out what traits in the characters will fit into the plot. In other words, your character will have plot-determined flaws, and then you'll have to figure out how to make them feel realistic--give the flaws a backstory.

    Why? Because only when character supplies the motivation for action does the story trundle the right direction down the rails. Situations by themselves are static--they do not impose action; humans behave in all sorts of ways in every situation. The determinant is character, which provides motivation for any particular act.

    If you have characters you like--that feel real to you--you might consider following where they go. If they hijack the story, maybe they have a better story to tell. It frequently happens to character-first writers, and many of them will tell you that the story is now better because they listened to the character. (And some won't say that, and for every 8 "made it betters" there will be at least one "dragged me off in a swamp and left me.")

    Something else to consider is that characters may find, partway through, that what had been their strength/virtue/etc. has become--in a new situation--a liability. Flaws and non-flaws can change value.
     
  15. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Usually by shifting its course. No matter what character triangle you've got for someone, there are still always many, many different actions that character can take from it. So, for instance, you say that the logical thing for one character to do, because of his major flaw in the story, is take action that will get him killed. This seems very unlikely that this is the only action that he might take or at least take in full, or, if he took it, that the outcome absolutely has to be death for him, as opposed to near death, or death and revival, or injury or some sort of escape. Small things can change action. The astronauts on the Space Shuttle were killed by a loose O-Ring.

    This is no doubt where your contrived concern comes in. If he is somehow saved, etc., then it will seem contrived, where something seems like lucky coincidence that you pulled out of your arse. But, first off, lucky coincidences happen, as much as unlucky ones do. And coincidences can also be supported by inserting some material for it earlier in the story.

    From what you're saying about not wanting to change characters much, then that's probably going to be plot that you are adjusting, and as Ms. Moon says, that's usually the way to go. But it is also possible to adjust character without completely rewriting the person. Story people don't have to have as complicated a past life as real people, but they can. So you can have something in that person's life that effects the way the flaw plays out, and again, establish this earlier in the story. You have a homicidal maniac -- he's not maniacing all the time. Something probably sets him off, which means something else can calm him down. Frankenstein -- fire, torches, he rages; little girl with flower, aww cute. Sometimes a flaw may be completely resolved by circumstances, but it doesn't have to be just to get it out of the way.

    Also, all characters continually observe, analyze and interpret what is going on around them and who they encounter and what they say and do. They then process that data through their character triangle which then forms some sort of action, from sitting it out to dialogue to a suicidal charge. So you can also alter the data the character is getting, perhaps deliberately altered by another character, so that the character in question, in his or her decision-making, is misled with wrong data. This is not making the character suddenly dumber about data, but confused about it, and so takes an action that is very logical for the character but obviously not what the character would have done if he'd had all the facts or the right facts. (Whether the reader has all the right facts or not is another storytelling issue.)

    So you have a lot of options -- change the situation of the scene, change the plot or aspects of the plot, change the character, primarily by adding background, or shade the character, make the flaw more complex, change the data the character is getting, etc. And don't forget your metaphors to help you with all of it. :)

    Consider whether it might actually be okay for the story if the character dies. If it's absolutely not, then there are probably adjustment possibilities less drastic than throwing out the entire ms. You are already mulling around some of them, sounds like. But which one to try tends to again rely on what story it is that you want to tell. Because while characters often lead authors in interesting directions and are, for the most part, why we read a story, they are also tools to the story and they can be shaped. (Unless you are one of those writers whose characters utterly boss you around, in which case, have a talk with them and find out what they want to do in the blasted story.)
     
  16. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    In as much as I agree with you, the irony here is that I have a character from whom the plot is flowing such that that plot is being imposed on the other characters. If that makes sense. :confused:

    Actually, saying it that way has just unravelled part of the issue. Not in all cases, but in two or three of the stories where I've hit roadblocks that's precisely the problem: plot is being imposed on my other characters, while I'm busily following around where my MCs flaws take me.

    Awesome. :)

    The solution in these instances would then seem clear -- I need to spend more time with my other characters and see where their flaws take the story.

    As in life it is in fiction -- life would be grand if it weren't for the people. :D

    So in practical terms, the conclusion I come to is this (as general advice for writers wanting flawed characters -- Ms. Moon, Kat, Mr. Sprunk, Mr. Tolan, et al, feel free to tell me this is a stupid thing to say):

    One way to keep your flawed character's peculiarities from overtaking your story is to place them amidst a host of robust characters, each with their own flaws. A large group of people will behave predictably, while an individual will not. Therefore, use group dynamics and human interactions to mediate the expression of a given character's flaws, and thereby mitigate the effect of a character's flaws on your story. In other words, a flawed character may require another flawed character to balance them out.
     
  17. E_Moon

    E_Moon Registered User

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    Not sure...you still seem to be wedded to an initial concept of the story that isn't comfortable with your MC's dominance in moving the plot. Your creative process seems to be different enough from mine that I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly what the problem is that you see with your MC's behavior affecting the others...to me, that's an "of course it does" given. But not to you.

    The way I work (which isn't the only way to work and I know that) is that my character's peculiarities don't "take over" the story...they make the story. The story is that character's story (or those characters' stories) and they are as they are--my control consists in shaping a coherent story out of what such a person is likely to do, not in trying to change the character. I'm most interested in how a given set of personality traits and habits functions in the situations I throw at them, not in normalizing the character. At times I may force an action by pinpointing what in that character (as he/she is) will motivate the character to cooperate (isn't needed often, but once or twice in a book) and if necessary putting in pre-hooks to prepare the reader for the possibility that bullheaded charge-ahead character may actually stop and realize how stupid X is and do Y instead. But I don't try to control one character's quirks with another (though they do all have quirks, it's more fun to have them sometimes exacerbate one another's flaws instead of moderate them...feels more realistic, too.

    Clearly that's not how you work, and thus my attempt to be helpful is likely to be useless.
     
  18. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    Actually, what you're saying makes a whole lot of sense to me -- I'm not sure our approaches are actually as different as the way we're expressing them.

    I took your last comment about driving the plot through character and assessed a few of the stories where I'm having issues -- I asked a simple question: are all of my characters driving the plot? And lo and behold, if I consider all of my characters as equally essential plot-drivers, then the problem exposes itself -- my flawed character is running the show, and the other characters are somewhere way in the back of the race struggling to keep up.

    I mentioned earlier that a difficult issue with flawed characters is that they sometimes make your other characters seem weak. Well, turns out that in some cases my other characters actually are weak -- the problem isn't necessarily the flawed character overriding the plot, the weakness of the other characters means they aren't contributing to the plot enough. I figure if I beef them up and make them more robust and matched in complexity to the character who is stealing the show, then I can probably course-correct that way.

    Might mean a more complex narrative overall, but I think I'd rather up the complexity of the narrative than deaden the complexity of the characters.

    That's only one of the issues I'm having in relation to flawed characters, though, but thank you for helping me figure out at least this much. :)
     
  19. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    Have to give credit where due -- this point also contributed to figuring out that all characters should be plot-drivers. Given that virtually all of the aspects of the real world are the product of one person (or group of people) trying to control another (or group of people) -- and, indeed, the very basic principle of democracy is to promote centrism by eliminating extremism through increasing involvement in the system -- then one character running amok is probably due to weakly balanced characterization. Not enough chefs, rather than too many!

    It seems I've been trying to compensate for the overpowering character by forcibly adjusting the plot instead of just adjusting the source of the total plot -- all the other characters.

    It's much easier to fake a strength than admit a weakness, eh? :)
     
  20. E_Moon

    E_Moon Registered User

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    You're right that if there's only one complex character, the others will seem weaker in comparison. But for most stories, there should be a clear "I'm the MC" character who shows the most complexity, or readers don't know whom to follow. (As some people on this forum have said--there are readers who do not like "lots of characters" and especially characters of the same "weight" as the MC. But then there are people who don't like having one MC all the way through. Can't please everyone.)

    You might look at your character list as a pyramid, with MC at the tip (and having the most depth, straight down), your one to three important secondaries to either side below, and then each layer down is less complex (but not one-dimensional until you hit that bottom line, where the nameless guy who has to be seen turning on the lights turns on the lights and that's it.) I'm forever getting into trouble by giving spear-carriers too much complexity (and sometimes editors even let me get away with it, alas--there's one in WC that I wish I'd trimmed, but he grew on me--we have a kid with developmental disabilities, so the moment I gave that character a kid who was lagging in school, I was sunk. Suddenly we have his kid, his wife, the school, all tangled up in there, when they have no plot function.) All he really had to do was notice an anomaly in death rates and report it, so a plot could be unraveled later on, but...) The thing to ask yourself, if you ever feel you're headed down that road, is whether every detail of the tertiary and below characters is plot-relevant. If it's not plot relevant--however interesting to you--then that attempt at humanizing is just doing to slow the story. If it is plot-relevant, then it stays.

    Anyone you give a POV section to may try to run off with the story. Characters, like real-life people, love attention and want to talk too long (or, some of them do. Enough to cause trouble.) Troublemakers are particularly prone to wanting a POV section to explain why it's not really their fault, when it is. (Sorry, I say to such characters: your role is "whiny, passive-aggressive, 'it's-never-my-fault', interfering and boring troublemaker," of the type we all recognize on sight or sound, annoying and delaying the MC so he/she doesn't notice something we don't want MC to notice, and you don't get a POV because you're annoying and boring enough already. Say your lines can get off the stage. It's not your story. It's MC's story.)

    There are tons of well-written, effective, just-complex-enough secondary characters in mysteries (mysteries are often skeletal enough that it's easier to pick out how things work)...though in long series, the secondary may overgrow the role. I don't know if you read mysteries, but you might try some just for the technical aspects of character balance. MC-sidekick, where the sidekick/secondary can be either in competition (equal rank/social class--say a police detective and a private detective, or two police detectives) or cooperatively subordinate (different social class/rank/whatever--very obvious with Peter Wimsey and Bunter, but also Inspector Lynley and Sgt. Havers, Inspector Morse and Sgt. Lewis, Holmes and Watson.) It's much easier to keep the secondary secondary if there's a social or official rank differentiation--you can let Havers have a demented mother or Lewis have a wife without risking them taking over the series (though Havers sort of does in the later books.) An example of near-equal pairing is in Janet Neal's (or is it Neel--can't recall) mysteries with a high-ranking civil servant (female) and high-ranking Scotland Yard officer (male), both of them highly complex characters.