13 January 2013


I recently found a great post (as part of a larger author-contributing website) on writing for a YA audience. Alane Ferguson* says that a young audience won't believe or relate to a character that is too wise or too level headed for their age.

I is for Imperfections

I would go one step further and say, regardless of the genre or audience, any perfect character is surely unbelievable; ideal, maybe, but unbelievable because no-one is perfect.

I love my boyfriend, friends and family, but I'm not naive enough to think they are without their faults (sorry folks!). Regardless of these though I still love them all, because that's who they are; the good comes with bad. And trust me, I definitely don't think I'm perfect either. I'm terrible at standing up for myself (even after a bad manicure in which I left with a cut finger, I still gave a tip!!!); I'm really not that bothered that my roots show through; and I leave tissues in my trousers pocket so that all the clothes come out of the washing machine scattered with a flurry of white fluff. I really can't sing, but in the car I love to do it at full volume; I bite my lip to shreds when I get nervous; and quite honestly I don't know what I'm doing career or aspiration wise.

But these flaws make me who am I; as your flaws make you who you are. But they shouldn't be forgotten when it comes to writing a character. Imperfections make the characters real, relatable and more interesting. Some of my favourite characters openly admit their faults, whilst others don't quite realise where they are going wrong.

But it's not just about the characters in isolation. Perhaps the underlying arc of the story is some sort of character development, or maybe a character's faults lead them down a certain path and thus informs the plot. These things couldn't happen if your protagonist is perfect to start with.

When I first started reading Stephen King's Carrie, I was surprised by how much of a train wreck sixteen year old Carrie was. She was a loner, completely oblivious to what was happening to her changing body, and passively accepted the taunts and teasing from the other school girls.
When Miss Desjardin led Carrie up to the office fifteen minutes later, the halls were mercifully empty. Classes droned onwards behind closed doors.
Carrie's shrieks had finally ended, but she had continued to weep with steady regularity. Desjardin had finally placed the napkin herself, cleaned the girl up with wet paper towels, and gotten her back into her plain cotton underpants.
She tried twice to explain the commonplace reality of menstruation, but Carrie clapped her hands over her ears and continued to cry.
To her peers Carrie had many, many faults, which they bullied her for. I empathised with her but found her a little hard to sympathise with to start. But as I discovered what her mother and home life was like, I began to understand why she was the way she was. Carrie is far from perfect, at the start or at the end of the story, but her quirks, imperfections and experiences influence how she behaves, drives the plot forward, and in the end make me understand her as a person (and maybe just a little, root for her too).

Do any of your favourite characters have any imperfections? ...Do you...?

*You can find Alane Fergus's post on Writing Imperfect Characters at Writing Teen Novels.

1 comment:

Book Angel Emma said...

I am very critical of myself unfortunately. I do like characters not to be perfect as it makes them more realistic.
I cannot believe you gave a tip for a bad manicure when they cut your finger ((books you into assertiveness lessons))