Friday, February 24, 2012
As readers and writers, we are often contemplating the likeability (or dislikeability) of our protagonists -- and those in our favorite books. In this recent post, writer Rosslyn Elliott talked about character flaws, asserting that for characters to make lasting impressions on a reader, they must be flawed and their flaws must be authentic.

Very true. I mean, how many times have you read a book and thought: No one is this perfect! Or: Well, she made one little error in judgment, but other than that she did everything exactly right. How boring.

On the flip side, readers often adore books with despicable -- or at least, highly flawed -- characters (think Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind). Even little Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe almost destroyed Narnia with his insatiable greed. Yet we root for him. Sometimes a writer is so good we even find ourselves rooting for a real villain.

There's a no right or wrong way to frame it, but the hero or herione must be real/imperfect in order for readers to deeply feel something. Why? Because that means they're like us. They can change. They can learn. They can grow. They can be mostly likeable people who make some terrible choices. Or they can be decent people stuck in impossible situations. Or they can be wretched people making others’ lives miserable. Many unlikeable characters are extremely passionate about something -- even if it's the wrong thing.

Emma is one of my favorite protagonists. She’s intelligent, but a bit conniving. She’s caring, but also meddlesome. In short, she has authentic flaws.

Who are some of your favorite flawed characters? Do you prefer protagonists who are nice guys/girls, villains, or somewhere in between?


Julia @ That Hapa Chick said...

I think character's just aren't real if they don't have flaws. No one is perfect! That being said if a character is so flawed that I can't root for him/her then I just won't like the book. One of the biggest for me is when a girl character (or a boy character for that matter) is cheating on their boyfriend/girlfriend or they're cheating with someone else's boyfriend/girlfriend and the reader is supposed to believe its "Okay" and that the character "had no choice" or that it was just "inevitable." That really bugs me. :P

Ashley @ Book Labyrinth said...

I do like nice characters, but they can't be too perfect. When someone is shown without any flaws it's just completely unbelievable. If you're so nice to everyone and only think kind thoughts there's no WAY I'm going to think you're like a real person.

One of my favourite flawed characters is Saba from Blood Red Road. She is so hateful to her sister and treats her like crap... she's ornery and hard to get to know... and she thinks her brother is the great person in the world, when likely he completely isn't. Yet she has a softness if you dig deep down. She's so flawed but she's also good and brave and strong and smart.

Ingrid Palmer said...

Julia, that's so true! I guess we all have our pet peeves and ideas about about which flaws are acceptable or unacceptable in a character. Interesting. Thanks for the comment!

Ashley, your description of Saba is great. She definitely sounds real and flawed. I tend to get turned off initially by not-so-nice characters, but they often can grow on me. And yes, I agree: the protagonist can't be too perfect, either. That's just too easy.

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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.



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The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
Eleanor and Park
The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Froi of the Exiles
Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
The Fault in Our Stars

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