Flaws = Fun: Interesting Characters in YA

June 22, 2009 at 9:22 AM | Posted in Writing Advice | 9 Comments
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We’ve all done it.

We can’t deny it.

Sometimes, we’re even pretty outspoken about it.

That’s right.  I’m talking about saying that one phrase.  That one sentence every avid reader has uttered at some point in there life.  Sometimes in shameful whispers and others with booming, harsh voices.

“This character is just so boring!”

It can happen to the best of writers.  The unintentionally boring character is like the flu.  Everyone gets it sometime, but you want to do all you can to fight it off.

So what makes characters boring?

A lot of things.  A lack of action.  No interesting dialogue.  Yada yada yada.  But there is one sure, quick way to make a character dull as a TV on CSPAN.  And that method of self distruction happens to be perfection.

Yes, it’s strange, I know.  But perfection leads to incredible amounts of imperfection.  Why?  Because flawed people are interesting.  Flawed people are human and therefore relatable.  Flawed people keep us on the edge of our seat, wondering what on Earth they could get into next!  And perfect people…well, they’re just plain boring.

So are you having trouble with that pesky perfect person?  Well, here is a checklist of things you might try in order to spice up that character’s life.

1. Annoying habits – yeah, some annoying habits, like stuttering, talking too much, and rambling thoughts are going to annoy the reader a bit, but don’t we all get annoyed with our friends?  And isn’t the goal to make the reader fall in love with our characters?  So, in theory, by making them annoying you are making them more realistic.

2. A warped sense of thought – Characters who think along the same lines as every other human being are forgettable.  The characters who think about  life and the world in a totally abstract way stick with the reader longer.  Even if their thought process is dangerous, sick, and utterly unpleasant, it will still get the reader thinking.  And invoking thought is always good.

3. Physical flaws are not enough – Physical flaws, like a strange appearance or uncontrollable clumsiness, are simply not enough.  Yes, they are often entertaining, but by themselves phyical flaws do not create an interesting character.

4.  Dark pasts – Okay, so maybe the dark past trick is a little cliche, but it is a cliche for a reason, my friend.  Do you know why?  Becaue everybody has a past. Everybody lives with regret.  And let’s face it.  Our memories are a large contributing factor to who we become in life.  Damaged characters are interesting.  That’s just how it works.

5. Bad decisions – We all make bad decisions.  Every one of us.  And there is nothing more boring than a character who gets it right every single time.  It is often said that Jane Austen’s most dull and unloved character was Fanny, the main character in Mansfield Park.  Why?  Because she was always right.  Always good.  And that is boring.  While the bad decisions characters make might have a reader throwing a book against the wall, that is still a better reaction that snapping it shut and never opening it again.

It has been my personal experience that flawed characters often gain more affection.  Look at Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl.  To put it plainly, she’s a complete bitch….but we LOVE her!  She has flaws and is therefore entertaining.  And isn’t that–entertaining the reader–kind of the whole point of all of this?

So, let me sum this up for you with a basic math problem.  Don’t worry.  No calculator will be needed.

Flaws = Fun

Perfection = Boring

Simple as that.  So go screw your characters up!  You’ll bad glad you did!

– Kody

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9 Comments »

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  1. I love how you can relate pretty much anything to Gossip Girl. :P

    But seriously, though, GREAT post. I loved your point about annoying habits. :)

    • What can I say? I thought of doing a whole post on why bitchy MCs rock, but I thought that would be a little too self promotional. lol. Maybe on my own blog. XD

  2. Great post! Hmm, my MC definitley has a dark past, and annoying habits, and makes the wrong decisions. Yay, not perfect! And maths I can understand – always amazing =]

  3. you’re right on about this one.

  4. Ooh… I’m so glad my new MC is a complete bitchy-girl. Apparently its a good thing!

    Great post twin!

  5. Bitchy MCs are amazing. They’re the most fun to write.

    In fact, I honestly can’t stand nice-girl MCs. That’s a horrible thing to say when you think of the fact that most YA MCs are nice girls, but I can’t. Unless there’s a promise that they’re going to develop some attitude sooner than later, I never get past chapter 2 or 3.

    Anyway… I’m thinking about making the MC in my second WIP way too talkative. And no, that’s not just an excuse for me to write more dialogue. :)

  6. Good points!
    But why does it always seem like I’m the only person in the world who likes Fanny Price? I admire her greatly. And I think she did have a flaw: she lets one of her best qualities (meekness) stop her from ever telling Mary Crawford when she is doing wrong and from telling Edmund that Mary is a cow lol

  7. How flawed does a character have to be to be interesting? I question the whole concept. That and fear. I question the idea of fear and flaws being the ONLY thing that makes a character fun to read about.

    • The point, I think, is to have a character with a desirable circumstance (ie undercover model, secret agent) to be a bit flawed or relatable to the reader. Not overtly flawed to the point of comical, but just enough to be a normal teen like you and me.


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