By Ceil Boyles
We love to fall in love with the strong, handsome hero, or admire the beautiful, brave heroine, but while appealing, those qualities alone do not make for a very interesting story.
In Deborah Halverson’s wonderful book, Writing New Adult Fiction, she provides a detailed discussion on the importance of giving your characters both strengths and flaws. Not only do flaws make your character more believable, they can be used to set up stumbling blocks that trip the character up on their quest to reach their goals, both internal and external. Imagine the climber who has a fear of heights, or the writer who has a fear of rejection – no wait, that last one is just too far fetched. The point is that overcoming flaws set the stage for rounded, exciting characters who must do things that are uncomfortable for them, or difficult physically, possibly even life threatening. It’s the flaws that make the book exciting and that stretches your characters, taking them on the ride at end of which is the pot of gold writers know as achieving their character arc.
Of course, as Ms. Halverson points out, the age of your characters comes into play. New Adult characters fall in the18-25 year-old age group. They’re not fully grown up, but they’re beyond the high school teen years. They’re experiencing a new freedom to choose what they want to do and who they want to be which is simultaneously exciting and scary, and which presents the writer with an interesting assortment of strengths and flaws to choose from.
I suspect I’m not alone in finding it easier to identify my character’s strengths than his/her flaws. After all, we want to like them, and we want our readers to like them. In fact, it’s important that we don’t overplay the flaw to the point the reader puts the book down. I mean, any reader can take just so much whining. I’m interested in the process authors go through in developing their well-rounded, imperfect characters that readers are drawn to.
I find that for me, the story idea usually comes first. Then I begin to get a fairly vague idea of my main character(s), and maybe one or two secondary characters. But I have to actually begin writing before they start having faces and personalities, and as the plot becomes more solid in my mind, I begin asking myself questions such as what flaw would make this goal even harder for my heroine, or what would make this hero charming and likeable despite the flaw I’ve given him to up the tension. What would it take for my heroine to face the obstacle I put in front of her given the flaws I forced upon her?
Whatever the process, the end result is extremely important, because for most novels, it’s how we feel about the characters that makes us want to read on or put the book down.