Thursday, June 23, 2011

Flawed Main Characters

Week of June 19—Main Characters
Thursday, June 23—Flawed Main Characters

Every protagonist, or main character, has to have a problem to overcome or a goal for which to strive. That problem may also be the main character’s flaw, or he/she may have a flaw that makes overcoming the problem more difficult. A flawed character is a more believable, relatable, and likeable character.

Now, don’t worry, your main character doesn’t have to have a Jerry-Springer-ish flaw or even a Dr.-Phil-ish flaw. Your main character only needs to have that little bit of humanness (even if he/she is an animal) that makes us feel for him/her and empathize with him/her.

My friend, Lynne Marie, has a new picture book that was just released by Scholastic for their Book Fair customers. Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten is the story of Spike, a hedgehog, who rides the bus to kindergarten each day and hopes to find a bus buddy. (That’s Spike’s problem that he’s trying to solve.) Spike’s problem is complicated by his character flaw. Every time the bus turns, or bumps, or thumps, the jolt causes Spike to spike, and his prickly quills scare off his would-be friends.

Spike’s flaw is a physical flaw—that’s a rather rare flaw in a picture book main character. Flaws are often internal—self-doubt, fear, or shyness for instance. Let your main character’s flaw grow out of who he/she is and what he/she is facing. That will make for a tighter fit and can lead more naturally to a resolution.

Below are some examples of problems faced by some main characters and the flaws that complicate their situations. (Note: These examples represent my analysis. You may see the problem and flaw in a certain book differently than I do. No worries . . . we both are focused on problems and flaws and that’s what matters!)

·        In Cowboy Camp, Avery’s problem is that he doesn’t fit in and his character flaw is his lack of self-confidence and his self-doubt.

·        In Fancy Nancy, Nancy’s problem is that her family isn’t fancy. Her character flaw is that she wants them to be fancy in the first place. (Thank goodness for her accommodating family!)

·        In Chicken Dance, Marge and Lola’s problem is that they desperately want to win the talent show and get those tickets to the Elvis Poultry Concert. Their flaw is that they are hopelessly untalented.

·        Mean Jean, from The Recess Queen, has a problem—she’s a bully. Her character flaw is . . . well, she’s a bully!

·        Bernadette’s problem in Mostly Monsterly is that she wants to fit in at Monster School. Her flaw is that she is nice and sweet under her monsterly appearance. (Nice and sweet are flaws for a monster!)

A perfect character is a boring character because a perfect character has no problems, and if a character doesn’t have problems, he/she isn’t flawed in any way and thus can easily solve any problem he/she might face. There’s not much story inside a perfect character. Besides, can you relate to a perfect person? Me either. Would you like being around a perfect person? Ok, maybe you would, but I would resent the whooey out of that perfect little pest. LOL!

Make your main characters flawed, and they become relatable and likeable as they overcome their problem despite their flaws. Strive for characters who are perfectly imperfect!

It’s Your Turn!
1. Analyze your own writing today. List the main character in each of your picture book manuscripts. Next, list each character’s problem that has to be overcome. Finally, list each character’s flaw. If you see a hole in one of your manuscripts—a weak problem, the lack of a flaw, etc.—you may want to rethink the story.


Anonymous said...

I found this blog via VerlaKay's board (thanks to Tammi S. for posting it). WOW. I feel like I'm in a workshop everytime I read a post. This is fab stuff. I am leading a workshop myself in a few weeks and will be sharing YOUR website with the folks there.

As for the flaws in my MCs...

The MC in my pb, Being Frank (just sold to Flashlight Press! YAY!), is that he is too frank. He says everything that is on his mind - and that causes issues with almost everyone he encounters.

In my newest pb (doesn't have a home yet), the MC wants to be the best cowgirl ever - but she can't even tame her own mane. So much like Spike's issue, my MC has a physical trait that keeps her from reaching her dream.

Rob Sanders said...

Welcome to Picture This! Don't ou just love Tammi Sauer?! Thanks for the kind words about the blog and thanks for sharing news about it with others. I'm at SCBWI, Orlando, this weekend and hope to find some new followers here, too!