Monday, December 26, 2011

Flaw 'Em Up! (Crit Diaries)

Before we get started: A request. I'm totally psyched that I get to guest post over at Zap's Lobster Tank next Friday for "F---ing Awesome Friday." I'm going to be writing about how F---ing Awesome UNAGENTED (/unpublished) WRITERS are. 

So. If you are an unagented and/or unpublished writer, send me something you're proud of.  Could be a concept, an excerpt, a sentence, a TITLE for crying out loud.  Just...whatever you have that your agent-seeking fingers have toiled over that makes you say, "Yeah. I am F---ing Awesome." I know you have it.

I'm going to do my best to work everyone's contributions into the post. Because you are F---ing Awesome, unagenteds. Don't forget it.

(Oh! And if you are an unagented writer and you know that I think you're F---ing Awesome - i.e., I have harassed you for your manuscript, synopsis, kissing scenes, or anything PLEASEGOD that lets me read more of your book...don't think you can get out of this. I'm coming after you. Yeah, Jamie Gray and Marcy Kate. That's you.

Because, after all - if you don't have rabid fans, what DO you have? )

Now, on with the post.
Well, friends, it's that time of the manuscript again.
Chessie and Maggie are plowing through crit at a pretty impressive clip, and along with the "break the paragraph here"s and "What made you fall in love with run-on sentences this year?"s and "Elias sounds like an old man"s, I'm also starting to sort through the novel's meta-questions.

When I sent the ladies my manuscript, I asked them to keep a lookout for a few things.
To avoid my second lead, Elias, being a douchebag (not least to avoid Gina's wrath), I didn't give him any really STRONG flaws. At least, not any obviously egregious ones.  And I wanted to know if it was a problem.

We all know that a main character must have identifiable flaws. For one thing, they make her believable, and for another, they clarify her character arc - how she's going to grow and change throughout the story - for the reader.  So, we writers worth our salt get to work flawing our main characters up. Maybe they have low self-confidence, or they are are really rude, or stuck-up, or can't handle their tempers, or maybe they don't believe in Love (*happy sigh*.) 

But what about secondary leads? How flawed must secondary leads, or any supporting characters, be in order to be believable - in order for us to root for them?
Before critique on ONE even got rolling, I posed this question to my patient writing coach Jean, and then after Chessie had hung out with Elias for a bit I asked the same of her. And they both answered the same way:

Every character must have a flaw, but the reader only needs to see it to the extent that it interacts with your main character's arc. Mostly because your character can't go this story on her own. She has to have people doing stuff and causing events for her to react to, and without flaws, other characters won't do that. 

In other words? Your cast of characters is kind of like Voltron. One unbelievably-unflawed link, and it all goes to hell.


So, in other words, the more involved your characters are with the main character's story, the more of their flaws the reader should be able to see.  For example, I'm pretty sure that Merrin's biology teacher spends too much cash on comic books and too little saving for retirement. But we don't see that, because they only thing he does in this book is look at Mer and Elias scoldingly for breaking curfew on a school trip. No problem.

But Elias has a pretty major, if quiet, flaw that ends up causing kind of a lot of trouble in its own way. Now, I could give him no flaws, so that he could just skate through the story holding Mer's hand and boosting her self-confidence, but then people would throw my book across the room. Because a perfect character is unbelievable, especially one that we see so much of,  the whole STORY would become unbelievable.

Okay, readers. Your turn! Please regale us with stories of how you've flawed your supporting characters up, and what that meant for the way you wrote your story.

8 comments:

  1. Was this the geeky bio teacher that gets checked out by the other teacher on the camping trip? Because I'm pretty sure I only know two things about him, but I love him.

    Honestly, not only do I think secondary character flaws are important for the main character's arc, but also for the plot of the story. Sometimes s. character flaws drive the plot as much as the MC's do.

    Right now, the beginning of Book 3 is pretty much riding on Rory's need to keep everyone around him safe, at all costs. It makes the story really weird to write, because for a while he's actually the focal point, but you're getting the story from three different MCs and you don't see him all the time. And when you do see him, you're like, "Rory! What are you doing now! Stand still!"

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  2. @Francesca Zappia It WAS that teacher, yes. Too bad he's getting axed from the story. :)

    And, your point about the plot - I guess that's what I was saying. I mean, if there's no one to foil the MC in her goal, what's the point, right?

    And I thought the entire UNIVERSE revolved around Rory('s need to keep everyone safe.) So that makes total sense to me.

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  3. Hmmm, sitting down at the computer for the first time since Friday is pretty effing awesome.

    Know what else is awesome? People's pants melting off pre-nookie. And kisses in the rain.

    I absolutely agree that perfect characters aren't believable. It's tough to strike the balance between flawed and douchebag, but that's where our wonderful CP's come in :)

    And my wine glasses came out of the dishwasher sparkling clean today. Thank God I have you when half my brain goes missing and remembering to use Jet Dry becomes Mission Impossible!

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  4. @Gina What? Whose pants melted off pre-nookie? *blush*
    (Seriously, if ONE gets published, I'm printing out like fifteen copies of that scene and stuffing it in random hardcovers of the book in stores. Unless that's illegal or something.)

    Okay. Rain scene noted. I'll probs just take one or two lines. :)

    I cannot WAIT till you hang out with Elias. I know you'll whip him into shape.

    And I'm just waiting for you to become my life minutiae manager in some way. It'll happen, soon, I'm sure.

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  5. My second book has a supporting character who more flawed than either main character! He's geeky, nervous, uncoordinated, awkward in social settings, overeager, and the black sheep of the family. But he's an awesome character.

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  6. Okay: so for "F-ING AWESOME FRIDAY" I have 3 thingz of which I am undeniably n' unbelievably in love with, from the YA novel (my first! so that's 4 thingz!) I am currently writing:

    1. I always get such a positive vibe from readers about the title: "THE VLOG OF CANDY BUDDAH".....my title F-ING ROCKS!

    2. I'm in love with the story setting my Muse has so belovedly given to me. My story's set in a near-future America, where all the grown-ups have marched off to fight World War IV, leaving the children behind but safely sheltered in 7 walled cities, guarded by a government supercomputer, named WAtCHDOG....who promptly runs amok, turns the walled cities into Death Camps, and marks every child for extermination......Again, I love this setting, it F-ING ROCKS!!

    3. I love, love, love the opening of my book! It goes:
    "It's 2071 and I'm sixteen. And I have tried a buttload of times to escape the Child Death Camps."
    One of the reasons I so love this opening is cuz it has a 50/50 ratio of readers loving/hating it. Nobody seems to just "tolerate" it, they love that opening or they hate it! (Special hate going out to that one word "buttload"...who'da thunk?) N' the cool thing? The readers who hate it are ALWAYS adults, n' the readers who love it are ALWAYS kids! So yeah, I have a crush on my opening, it F-ING ROCKS!!! ㋡

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  7. I happen to have 3 MC's in my book, and two of them have major flaws. Tam, the Time Dragon is a bit of a manipulative jerk at first, but I'm hoping people will come to like him once they see what he's been through :) I'm hoping his kissing scene redeems him later LOL.

    And I feel so honored! My first rabid fan :) I'm getting close to sending you a copy of TB! Promise!

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