May 3, 2012
This is Biscotti, the sweetest, most lovable dog in the world, right? If you said yes, you’d be right—some of the time. At other times she is a domineering, nasty, violent little… Well, I think you know where I’m going with this.
She bullies dogs two to three times her size. One of them is a 177 pound Great Dane. Another is a brute of a Boxer mix, who won’t take guff from any other dog. But Biscotti…she’s tough.
I heard a ruckus one day and rushed out of the office to see what was going on. Across our driveway, by the woods, Biscotti was fighting three coyotes. For the next three nights, she and another one of our crazy dogs sat outside all night, guarding the property. Another time she almost got into it with a wild boar who “dared” to venture onto her territory. Fortunately she was smart enough to stay clear of him.
Biscotti has killed nutria, two venomous snakes, a skunk (that’s another story), a few rats and squirrels, and God knows what else. If you saw Biscotti during one of her “vicious killer” moments, your opinion of her would be quite different than a person who only saw her cuddling with a new baby pig.
So What Does This Have to Do With Reading and Writing?
This is depth. Characters in books should be like real people, or real dogs, or real anything. Nobody is one dimensional. You may have a brutal killer doing reprehensible things to women or children, but somewhere, perhaps buried deeply, is something good. At least something different. Maybe your depraved killer loves kittens, or flowers, or can’t stand to see a dirty street and does whatever he can to keep it clean.
The same thing holds true for the story’s heroine or hero. No one—I mean, NO ONE is good all the way through. Everyone has a dark side, even if it is only slightly tainted. Even if they keep it hidden from the world. As a writer, you can reveal those flaws using internal thoughts or reflections, or actions the character takes when no one is looking.
The next time you create a character, dig a little deeper and find out what makes her/him tick. What keeps them up at night? What thoughts or memories wake them in cold sweats, trembling, unable to go back to sleep? When you figure that out, you’ll have a character people will love—or hate. Either way, it is good.
What are your favorite characters with flaws? Leave a comment and tell us why?