Editing Tip #80 – Honing Character Pt. 2: Flaws and Quirks

Last week I touched on adding the humanity spice to your characters be they good, bad or otherwise. Today I’d like to expand on that notion by adding a few more ingredients to your cooking character.

The key element you’ll need to look at is his/her flaws.

I’m not talking about the little quirks (which are totally necessary but not the big focus) where his girlfriend hates that he snores when he’s lying on his back or that her mother has to straighten her daughter’s flyaway hairs before letting her leave the house. Even those quirks where he has to give his victims wine before feeding on them or the necessity to pray to a god she’s not sure exists before she does a space walk.

Your main character flaw is what drives him or her – their motivating factor.

When it all comes down to it, plot is great but if you don’t have the right cast of characters – the best protagonist and antagonist for the job – then all you have is a grand idea without follow through.

Your villain wants to rule the world?

Why?

— and don’t say, “just because” because that’s not an answer…

— and don’t say, “he had a hard childhood and needs to take retribution for that pain” because it’s been done before…

Tell me:

— He watched the “good guys” kill his mother when he was seven years old and despises the system currently in power because he feels they disguise these acts of planned cruelty and only with someone compassionate, like him, running things will other children ever have the chances he didn’t (sounds like the good guy doesn’t it? But it’s not!)

— The tainted magic changed him on a molecular level to the point where he fears he may never recognize himself and in the process of trying to stop or even reverse what’s happening to him he steps on too many toes, breaks too many bones, and turns into the monster he’s trying to fight without even realizing it (a take on Jekyll and Hyde anyone?).

And what about your protagonist? Reading about a woman who risks her life as a firefighter because she’s noble and good and just does that sort of thing is, quite frankly, boring.

Tell me:

— She liked to play with fire and when she was ten years old burned her house down with the only survivor being her baby sister who was badly burned. To this day she anonymously visits the poor girl in a home but lives with the fear of being discovered/caught by anyone trying to get close to her.

— She’s the only one capable of guiding a group of ignorant and yet innocent people into the death zone that are the Deserts as they blindly follow a man who claims the past can solve the problems of the future. She is forced into taking on this job but she doesn’t believe in letting the innocent suffer… not like her parents did when they abandoned her as small child (my story!).

The imperfect hero or reluctant heroine will not always be your protagonist, but what you need to remember is that readers love to learn about the scars and the things kept hidden which drive the needs and desires of our main characters.

By flushing out the background for your protagonist and antagonist and continually asking yourself, “Why?” eventually you will get to the real reason behind what drives the people who live in your mind πŸ˜‰

Just remember that the key to baking the perfect story is adding just enough of the right spice and letting it heat up a little at a time until it’s done.

Happy Editing!


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9 replies

  1. Excellent advice M.J. – it’s important to talk about what motivates, what influences and what drives our characters. As you said, readers will relate more if characters are transparent – flaws and all!

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    • Thanks Mel! To me, this is what makes them “tick” – if the reader doesn’t understand the motivating force behind the good or bad that’s done, then we’ll only get lost trying to figure it out πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      • So true! I’m going to think about this each time I start the editing process – what makes my characters ‘tick’ and have I made this motivation clear πŸ™‚

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      • I’m actually dealing with that right now for the Chronicles Book 2 – you’d be surprised at the comments I got back from my publisher! I’ve already added another 12K words to help flush out Taya’s motivations and I still have another 5 chapters to go!

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      • Really? That’s a surprise. Her motivations were pretty clear to me! Not that I object to more words – more time spent with the characters is a good thing πŸ™‚

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      • That’s what I thought too but then when she pointed out the fact that we had both read book 1 not long before reading book 2 the impression we carried with us would be dramatically different from someone reading book 2 after waiting a year for it to come out! She purposefully didn’t re-read book one just so she could see how book 2 affected her. One thing you’ll like – there’s a bit more happening between Dez and Taya now! Mostly memories but not all πŸ˜‰ I can’t wait to get my hands on your novella to see how your world has come along too!

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a fair point. I hadn’t thought about that angle because I was anxious to continue the journey, and it was still fresh in my mind. Plus, that’s a huge bonus – more of Taya and Dez. I cannot wait for that! I think you’ll be pleased with what I did with the novella. You’re advice was invaluable πŸ™‚

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      • Glad I could help!
        Yeah, some of the new scenes will almost break your heart but they help explain why Taya’s regressed and has gone into self-protect mode.
        Can’t wait to bounce my ideas for books 3 and 4 off you… maybe next week since I’m working on these edits for a deadline this Friday.
        Thanks so much for the awesome comments πŸ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

      • My pleasure, and…bounce away! πŸ˜€

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