Hey Fatty

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Or Does Your Character Need That Flaw?

I know PBW is doing her left-behind and loving it series this week. If you’re a writer, definitely check it out. I will be.

I’ve been thinking and thinking what I could contribute (ok in all honesty I spent the weekend sloughing off AND thinking) and I really wanted to do something on characterization (and it’s sibling…Motivation). Then I hopped on over to Smart Bitches where there’s this whole discussion on overweight heroines, which really got my juices rolling.

I am not a teacher and I tend to work best through anecdotal stories–and I encourage you to share your own as well. Without further ado, I’m going to spend the week talking about Characterization and Motivation because I believe the two are tied together. For today I’m just giving you an intro and trying to get some discussion going, but we’ll talk about flaws and motivation this week as well.

So welcome to Characterization 101

At it’s heart, characterization is everything that makes up your character even if it doesn’t come into play on the pages of your book: The way they look, their job, their first love, their first kiss, their marital status, their bank account, their placement in the sibling hierarchy, their hopes, dreams and fears, how they think, how they perceive themselves and the world around them, and dozens of other nuances that go into breathing life into them and making them a memorable character.

That said, I have to confess that I watch way too much TV….(I know, big surprise right?) but I realized this weekend that one of the reasons I watch is…you guessed it, earl.png characterization. And the shows and movies I enjoy the most are the ones with great characters–same holds true for books BTW. Think about that for a minute. Think about the stuff you watch, and why. There’s a pop quiz at the end of this post.

One of my current favorites is SAVING GRACE. SG is a show that revolves around a female Oklahoma City detective who drinks too much, smokes like a chimney, nails anything that moves, and has turned her back on God. In the series opener, she’s drunk and she hits a man with her car, and then begs for help. God sends her a guardian angel who is, if nothing else, memorable as hell (pardon the pun)! That’s Earl. Over there on the right. Does he look like a guardian angel? Heeh!

Let’s get back to Grace…she is de-liciously flawed. And I do mean flawed! All of her vices make her interesting, but more than that, I think it’s the tiny things that keep her from crossing the point of no return that really truly count. Hear me out!

It’s easy to give your character big flaws: weight issues, baldness, rape, abuse and/or molestation, a bad childhood, a recovered alcoholic…whatever. But what you, (dare I say) must remember, is that giving a character a flaw is more than JUST ADD WATER. That’s right. It’s not just, “Okay I’ll make my heroine fat.” Who cares. Lots of people are fat. What makes your fat person so special? Why are they fat? Does it matter? How does it fit into the context of the story? And most importantly, why should we, the reader, care? Funny enough, my CP recently blogged about this.

Back to Saving Grace: In Grace’s case…besides all her vices, she’s fiercely loyal, and she inspires her friends to be loyal also. She doesn’t love widely, but those she’s close to, she has a deep bond with, and even though she doesn’t seem to care what people think about her, she DOES care what her nephew thinks about her and she loves him fiercely! She also loves her dog–a huge American Bulldog that’s s like her kid. In last week’s episode her dog got lost and she cried like a child and you really felt for her. Grace is not a bad person. On the contrary, she’s every shade of gray. Which is what makes her so human and so easy to relate to.

I spent the entire first season with baited breath waiting to find out what Grace’s secret was. Why she was so fucked up. Was the OKC bombing? Or was there something else? Something darker. I won’t spoil it for you but I will say I was a little pissed when I found out what her BIG SECRET was. I thought the source of her internal conflict was, well, a cop-out. A huge cop-out. WAYYYYYYY too easy. I should have known those damned writers wouldn’t let me down though. (I linked to the site…no spoilers unless you choose to go hunting for them.)

As they say, it’s all in the execution. Unfortunately, in fiction writing, well, in romance writing, getting away with characters like Grace is tough at best. Though personally, I LOVE flawed characters–I know my critique partners are snickering right now.

So back to the basics: Do you need to do character questionnaires to learn about your characters? Do you need to sit and have long dialogues with your characters and get to know them? No, but you can, if that’s what works for you. For some writers things like questionnaires are an absolute necessity and I used to do them myself. For some writers, it’s the joy of discovering your characters as you write that’s a part of what makes it all so fun. I do think, as a young writer, questionnaires worked for me, but I’m a much more organic writer these days (with the Caveat that if a character comes to me and wants to talk, I get out the pen and paper). If you want to see a questionnaire, leave a comment and I’ll shoot one to you.

Seriously, think about your favorite books and why they’re keepers. Was it the story? Or was it the characters? Think about some of your favorite movies and TV shows and why. Name that book and/or show(s), and whatever it was about those characters that stood out.

And do you do questionnaires and interviews or do you let your characterization unfold organically?


Second class is here: Did you load that gun?

19 thoughts on “Hey Fatty

  1. Pingback: Southern Fried Chicas » bass ackwards pimpin'

  2. I just finished Linda Howard’s new book Death Angel. OMG she takes to people we aren’t supposed to like and makes us root for them.

    Andy uses men to get what she wants by being a bimbo. She has made a calculated choice to be become a bimbo. The hero is an assassin. I don’t want to give the book away, but she makes Andy flaws and vulnerability real to you very quickly. I enjoyed this book very much, because they folks are usually the “bad guys”.

    It takes skill to get over the readers stereotypes of what a heroine and hero should be. The book isn’t perfect and actually wondered if some of the motivations were strong enough. However I liked the characters enough to continue the book. Most of the questions I had came toward the end, so I had to finish it *grin*

    When I grow up I want to be Linda Howard. *grin*

  3. When I grow up I want to be Linda Howard. *grin*

    Honey don’t we all!!!!!! I’ve heard this is an amazing book (I read PBW’s review). I haven’t read Howard in a long time but I think I’m going to have to break down and check this one out.

    I remember one of the books of hers that made me a fan was Mr. Perfect and it’s sitting on my keeper shelf.

    Frankly, I love the whole bimbo vs assassin thing! Talk about At Odds!

  4. I’m a sucker for a flawed character, as evidenced by my passionate love affair with HOUSE. (Yes, it’s all in my mind. More’s the pity…) But the more I think about it, the more the stories I love the most–be they movies or books–feature heroes and heroines who are far from perfect people. (Top of my list right now–Julie and Wynn from _Nailed_. Although Will and Sabrina are giving them a run for the money!)

  5. Hey Amie! *waves a hand*

    I don’t do the questionnaire thing. That one got old real quick. I mean, when you don’t know the answer to most of the questions, you might as well just pants your way through, right?

    Favorite characters? Lilith Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine ranks really high, and it’s definitely all about characterization on that one. Danny’s like the archetype of the tortured heroine for me–umh, yes, I think she’s a better tortured heroine than Cherijo.

  6. I love flawed characters. Perfect people are no fun. They’ve got to have some redeeming qualities, though.

    Favorite flawed characters . . . Jay Gatsby. Nick Carraway (his loyalty to Gatsby near the end redeems his pretty shallow, unreliable existence, LOL). Hester Prynne (but not Arthur Dimmesdale).

    John Proctor from Miller’s The Crucible. (He is so flawed at the beginning, so proud, yet trapped by his sins . . . and so heroic at the end. His character arc makes the play for me.)

    I’ve internalized my pre-writing technique, so no questionnaires for me. I do a lot of thinking and I know a lot about my character when I start, although some of it does unfold organically (I love that term).

  7. I know my critique partners are snickering right now.


    I have been letting characters unfold naturally, but I may need to go back to some kind of list. I’ve been missing a crease here and there lately, lol.

    But seriously–I’m with you on the flawed characters. LOVE ’em. But sometimes it is hard to get away with them, especially if you’re not established. And while I’m willing to overlook some lack of characterization in short works, I definitely need it in the longer ones.
    Because even though I LOVE a convoluted plot, twists, turns, surprises, there isn’t a plot in the world that hasn’t been done in some way, shape, or form. But a remarkable character can hold my interest pretty indefinitely if done well.

    Firefly (or Serenity) came to mind as I read your post. Mal, with the heart of gold and the tarnished spirit. Wonderful.

  8. I love a flawed character, and I really love a flawed character, who may not always recognize their flaws initially, but eventually change and grow.

    I love the show Numb3rs- the relationships between the characters: brothers, parent-child, team members…

    As a new writer, I use a charcacter chart- I fill it out as I discover new things about my characters. It started out with just their name, apperance, and a little about their family. I add to to it when I learn something new about them ie. likes and dislikes, or past experiences that impacted whom they have become.

    Great Blog!

  9. Seriously, think about your favorite books and why they’re keepers. Was it the story? Or was it the characters? Think about some of your favorite movies and TV shows and why. Name that book and/or show(s), and whatever it was about those characters that stood out.

    And do you do questionnaires and interviews or do you let your characterization unfold organically?

    1. My favorites books are my favorites for their depth of character, worldbuilding, and narrative beauty. The story must keep me reading, but I’ll keep reading a poorly paced or somewhat plot-hole-laden book if the characters, world-building and prose are worth it. If you break one of those, I’ll stop. So if you’ve got plot holes, and then your previously brilliant character does soemthing stupid? Book, meet wall.

    The book that stands out to me is Joshilyn Jackson’s The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. (Her book, Between, Georgia would be second!) The characters had VERY distinct voices, the story was gripping, and she created a fabulous microcosm of suburban development life that gave me shivers. Her protagonist was willfully blind, but to cover it up, she was outspoken in other ways – looking for something wrong with the creepy neighbor (who was creepy in a completely different way than the heroine imagines), she and her sister have a love-hate relationship, but that’s the first person she calls when she’s in trouble, she’s married to what has to be the most boring hero in history, but somehow, we understand why.

    And I don’t do character interviews. I interview myself about the characters and usually end up writing out their backstory. What led them to the point where the story starts? What kind of person ends up there?

  10. I LURVE House too Jackie–in part because he won’t change–or changes at a glacial speeds. I’m going to talk about Will and Sabrina today!

  11. Oh Raine! Mal is definitely one of my fave characters!

    Also Kyra Sedgwick’s character from The Closer–Jackie pointed out to me that she’s a bit on the selfish side! And the guy from Burn Notice–very flawed, Lots of baggage and a reluctant hero–much like Mal from Firefly. What about Angel? and OHHHHHHHHH Cordellia from Angel and Buffy–talk about a reluctant heroine!

  12. Di….Numb3rs is a great show–in part I think because the characters are kind of ordinary! Which brings to mind another great show–Medium. Joe DuBois is the hottest ordinary guy on TV!

  13. Jess…I haven’t read Joshilyn (but I know she writes Southern Fic which I LOVE!) I need to check her out.

    Another fave southern author who writes BEAUTIFULLY is Marsha Moyer — OMG *insert fangirl squeel* Her prose is amazing! Her characters are yummy *sigh*

    Thanks for stopping by ya’ll and stay tuned for part two!

  14. Pingback: Amie Stuart ~ On the Back Porch | Hey Fatty Pt Deux - Did You Load the Gun?

  15. OMG Linda you got stuck in moderation. My apologies!

    You know what? I do some of my best work when I daydream *blush*

  16. Wow, this is food for thought. I am one of those who does character questionnaires. I might not answer every single question, but I need to have some sense of who they are before I write. For me, I think it is a combination of character and plot, but as you can see from the way I worded this, character does come first for me. Recently, a show that really drew me in with great characters and an interesting plot was Moonlight. Two that keep me clamoring for more are Lost and Grey’s Anatomy for the same reason – great characters, interesting plots.

  17. I just realized after reading this that my main character has no flaws. She suffers from perfection syndrome. *sigh Now I’m going to be thinking about the right flaws to give her instead of going to sleep.

    Thanks, Amie! 🙂

  18. Cheryl I did the same thing with my first heroine–she had flaws but she was kind of a martyr! Hope you got some sleep! And hey come back and tell us how you tortured her!

  19. Hey margay! thanks for stopping by. I’m so with you! You know, one of the things I enjoyed most about the early seasons of Lost was the unfolding character stories!