So reading our previous work can cause us some anxiety, but in a way that's a good thing, because it helps us recognize growth. It lets us see where we've strengthened our writing and where we still fall short. Because, sorry to say, we'll never arrive.
One of my favorite books on writing is Elizabeth George's Write Away. I have so many tabs on the pages I can't see the edge of the book. The tabs are even color coded. Alas, I can't remember what the colors mean. No matter. This is a resource book I go back to time and time again, and one I highly recommend.
In Chapter 1, "Story is Character," she touches on our subject in regards to character development, citing a problem that new writers in particular tend to fall into. She says:
If I had my first manuscript to look back on -- the one I discarded in a recent move -- I know I'd see just how badly I fell victim to that error early on. It wasn't quite the "silent movie" depiction of good characters and bad characters, where the heroine is all perfection and the villain is a cigar-smoking jerk who spends most of his time twirling his black handlebar mustache, but it was close. My protagonist was an angelic creature, bearing her many trials and tribulations with quiet dignity, while the antagonist was cruel and rigid in her opposition to the heroine.I try to keep some basic guidelines in mind when I'm creating my characters. First, I try to remember that real people have flaws. We're all works in progress ... and not one of us possesses physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological perfection. This should be true of our characters as well ... As individuals we're all riddled with issues of self-doubt in one area or another. This is the great commonality of mankind. So in literature, we want to see characters who make mistakes, who have lapses in judgment, who experience weakness from time to time.
To quote Megan: B-O-R-I-N-G.
Well, I tend not to do that with my characters now, which hopefully shows some growth in my writing. I actually had fun creating the character of Aria Winters in Unraveled, a young woman flawed in so many interesting ways. A character who was relatable. And it was the flaws that gave me the story. Elizabeth George confirms this when she says:
She gives an entertaining example of this from the writing of one of her students, who was creating a private investigator in the story she was writing:... characters are interesting in their conflict, their misery, their unhappiness, and their confusion. They are not, alas, interesting in their joy and security. The first gives them a pit out of which to climb during the course of a novel. The second robs them of story.
[In the first 10 pages] ... we met the PI, his sister, their mother, and their stepfather. the PI was from a large Irish family. His sister worked for him. He and his sister got along well; they were practically best friends, and they loved each other to pieces. On the night in question ... the PI and his sister -- loving each other to pieces -- are going over to their mother's house for St. Patrick's Day dinner. They adore their mother and wouldn't miss a St. Patrick's Day dinner for all the corned beef and cabbage in County Clare. Plus, their mother is a superb cook, the best cook ever, in fact ... So they go over to their mom's house, and the first person they see is their stepfather. He's a wonderful man. They worship him. He made their childhood bliss.
At this point in the chapter, one was praying for someone to come along and put all of these characters out of the reader's misery. Why? Because there was no conflict. There was nothing but happiness, joy and familial bliss. Alas. There was no story.
Ms. George goes on to talk about the importance of giving your characters flaws. And she's absolutely right. There's no dimension to a perfect character, nothing the reader can connect to. And nothing on which to hang a plot.
Have you ever found yourself writing flawless characters? Been hesitant to show your characters' imperfections? And conversely, not allowed your antagonists to have any good qualities? Have you seen growth in your writing when it comes to character development -- or any aspect of creating story? What helped you see the importance of letting your characters' humanity show through?