ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Characterization Isn’t Always Pretty

Updated on February 13, 2013

As a writer and a person, I subscribe to the philosophy of life Gerard Manley Hopkins described in “Pied Beauty.” He glorifies God for “dappled things,” for “all things counter, original, spare, strange,” for “whatever is fickle, freckled,” and for the “swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim” parts of creation.

Most of my characters are “dappled things” because they are flawed, and that’s what makes them interesting—and human. Imperfection can be beautiful, and novelists can embrace this idea to create wonderfully flawed characters readers will remember long after they have finished the last sentence.

Flaws in flawed characters

No matter how you create a character—even a so-called “perfect” and lovable character—at least one reader will have a problem with that character. That, too, is human. On the one hand, readers will say, “They were the perfect couple,” yet they will later rant, “They were too perfect, and it made me want to puke!” On the one hand, readers will rave, “She was such a strong, driven woman,” yet they will later moan, “She made me want to choke her when she did that!” Readers are fickle. Readers are flawed and imperfect; therefore, readers are beautiful, too.

Creating flawed characters is like pulling a slot machine, throwing dice, or spinning the roulette wheel. Sometimes your attention to significant “flawed detail” pays off in a big way, and sometimes it costs you dearly. As I write, I try to concentrate on what real people might say and do in real situations as much as I can, yet readers still tell me, “That was completely unrealistic to me because I have never heard anyone say or do that.” Readers who appreciate reality will thank you for your efforts: “I saw myself in her … As I read I thought that this could happen to me … I know someone exactly like her … she gave me hope.”

Flawed dialogue?

Some “experts” who allegedly “teach” others how to write novels evidently don’t want writers to live in the real world either, especially when it comes to writing dialogue. At a so-called “how to write a novel” website, I read that the way people really speak is “hopeless” for use in a novel and that novelists should improve on dialogue. How strange and unoriginal is that? Allow me to write an “improved” piece of dialogue for you:

He: My darling, you look positively ravishing tonight.

She: Why, thank you, most kind sir.

After you finish gagging and you close that Harlequin, you realize that in the real world, you would actually hear something closer to this:

He: Girrrrl, you're lookin’ good!

She: What-ev-er.

Flawed characters earn hate mail

Over the years, I have gotten plenty of hate mail, most of it directed at my imperfect, flawed characters. Renee was too bossy and demanding in Renee and Jay. “She treated her man wrong, and he was such a sweetheart!” a reader wrote. And yet, Renee softened her heart, fell in love, and married him. Renee continues to be demanding in Renee and Jay 2, and one reader said, “I hated her because of how she was raising her daughter.” Renee empowers her daughter not to be a victim at any time. Why would anyone hate a mother for teaching her daughter that? Though I had Penny cursing mostly in her narration and in her mind in Something Real, some readers wrote, “Church people don’t curse at all!” Really? At all? Penny is plus size and Dewey is as wide as he is tall, and they fall in love. A reader wrote, “I didn’t see the attraction at all.” Could this mean that the reader wasn’t attracted to Dewey? The two characters feel the attraction, and that’s all that matters. According to one reader, Nisi is too introverted in I’m Your Girl: “That woman needed a backbone!” Nisi is a shy librarian. How much backbone does she need? Katharina in She’s the One is “an absolute shrew!” Well, I am recreating Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and Katharina is supposed to be shrewish in the beginning until Pietro tames her in the end. Readers found Shari in I’ll Be Your Everything to be “indecisive, fearful, and unsure of herself.” Shari impersonates her boss while her boss is on vacation. If she is caught, she’ll lose her job. Why wouldn’t Shari be indecisive, fearful, and unsure of herself?

Readers sometimes hang on to a flaw that I give a character on page two all the way to the end of the novel even though I have “resolved” that flaw on page 150: “I didn’t like her because of what she did in chapter one.” My character changed. Flawed people often do that. It’s what makes flawed people fun. They can change. Perfect people can’t change. They have to be perfect all the time. My character got past whatever it was you didn’t like. Why can’t you? Sometimes readers don’t grow nearly as much as our characters do by the end of the novel.

Flawed on purpose

Will I continue to populate my novels with flawed characters? Definitely. Will I continue to get hate mail? Probably. Does it bother me? No. I don’t write novels in the hopes that I won’t get hate mail. I write to get a reaction from my readers. I want to tick them off, make them laugh, make them cry, and make them wonder. I want to keep them thinking and interacting with the imperfect people in my world. It’s my job to take my readers’ emotions on a roller-coaster ride into a world unknown to them, and I’d be doing my readers a disservice if the people they meet in my novels weren’t interestingly flawed, damaged, or dysfunctional in some way.

One reader hated one of my heroines with such a passion that she wrote me a dozen times to tell me. I replied to her once: “If you want to read an impossibly perfect romance starring impossibly perfect people, write your own. If you want to read an imperfect yet possible romance starring ordinary and flawed people, read my next novel.”

If you create characters who are “spare, strange … fickle, freckled … [and] adazzle, dim,” you may catch some heat and receive some hate mail. Shrug your shoulders when that happens because it probably will happen. Flawed characters might not always be pretty, but they can certainly be pretty durn interesting and entertaining to read about.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • multiculturalsoul profile imageAUTHOR

      JJ Murray 

      5 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

      Perfect people tend to bore me, not that I've ever met any. I have met plenty who THOUGHT they were perfect. They're fun to write about, too.

    • creative hand profile image

      creative hand 

      5 years ago

      nice one...

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 

      5 years ago from New Brunswick

      We are all flawed, thanks for an infomative and entertaining read.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)