Tuesday 11 June 2013

A Flawed Character

                                                    Photo by Thinkstock
A character in a novel needs a few flaws or they aren't very realistic.
So I mock one up. Give them a face. Maybe a couple of arms. Legs. A bit of hair. Perhaps a beard. Then I sit them down on a chaise longue and I ask them: What is wrong with you?
Are you too bossy? Do you have a phobia? Do you eat with your mouth open? Do you have a messed up relationship with a relative? Do you steal from the pic n' mix counter at the cinema? Don't tell me you talk at the cinema because I'll have to kill you off before your debut... Are you unreliable? Jealous? Do you wish you were someone else?
Of course, if writing guidebooks are anything to go by, there's only one question worth asking: WHAT IS IN YOUR POCKET?
Nope? You've never done that little exercise?
I don't know what's in my own pocket let alone theirs. Fluff probably. And a hair band. Very telling. Yes, I have long hair! Now you know everything there is to know about me.
It's ironic that while I'm inventing flaws for my fictional characters, I'm wishing I could erase them entirely from my own character. I ignore the fact that if I didn't have any flaws, I wouldn't be realistic. Perhaps I wouldn't be real even. I would vanish from the face of the earth and THE GREAT WRITER would appear with one of those pencils with the little pink rubber at the end, the rubber visibly used, and say, 'Sorry, I had to edit you out, you weren't very believable'.
Last Saturday was a boozy affair where everything was just wonderful, until it wasn't. I don't know. I got excited. Lost my will power in the garden somewhere. Maybe it fell through the grill along with a barbequed sausage. The result was, I woke up with a hangover, and was overcome with self-loathing. I couldn't understand how it had happened. How come my character, who had been through so much, could still act like she was a teenager? Hadn't she learnt ANYTHING?
It's frustrating being a human being sometimes...  
And repetitive too as the same old thoughts kick in: How I'm never going to drink ever again in my life. Or at least a month. A couple of weeks? Okay, I'll give up drinking forever but I might have to take up something else instead. Then again smoking has got to be worse than drinking, hasn't it? No I know, I'll never go out. If I don't go out I won't be tempted. I'll be a hermit. Yes, I'll be a hermit. But then my husband might get bored of me and leave me. Oh, but he probably should because I'm an idiot anyway... Why don't I ever remember to drink water? Never. Again. I'm going to start my whole life over. Maybe I should have a baby. I'll definitely be more responsible if I have a baby. I won't be able to drink either. Oh shut up, I'm NOT going to have a baby just to make myself feel better about myself. You complete idiot. I'll have to drink lime and tonic at parties, say I'm on antibiotics... whatever happens I'm never getting drunk EVER AGAIN.  
Real enough? Frustratingly so.
Obviously this morning I've been a model character. I meditated and I went for a long walk and I decided to give up alcohol for a month. I WILL be the character I want to be, I think to myself. And yet, although I'll make every effort, I sense THE GREAT WRITER is laughing at me. I've missed something important. I'll be a perfect character for a short while, but never forever.
Perhaps I need to have better look in my pocket. Perhaps there is a secret in there after all.   
A View from this Morning's Walk


Anonymous said...

Ah, but you see your goals are all negative. I won't do this, I'll give up that. Our brains can't process negatives soothe have to think of what you don't want all the time.

So... Think about what you do want. A fab night out chatting to everyone, writing a character who leaps off the page. Then think about how to get that.

If I ask you not to think of pink elephants, what happens?

Coach hat is now going back in the cupboard... It's dinner time.


Shop Girl said...

Your coach hat makes you very wise! I definitely thought of pink elephants. Thank you very much, what you've said makes so much sense and I'm definitely going to take your advice! :)

Isabel Rogers said...

Oh, she's very wise, isn't she? Pink elephants here too. All this bloggage and no mention of Mr B's gauntlet? Good luck. You can do it. And you're already writing great characters.

Shop Girl said...

I think it's less about giving up though which is why I didn't go into Mr B's challenge. I might do it, I might not. I'm just interested in the patterns of my unconscious mind... or something clever like that. X

Creaky door writer said...

I love that you share writing tips in an entertaining way - this is what I look for in a writer's blog! My heroine's flaw is that she is a control freak - a great trait for a heroine in a thriller because she really suffers when the control goes. And I know all about control freakery because I'm a book editor. You'll know about those!

Creaky door writer said...

I meant to add that my heroine has nothing in her pockets because it would spoil the line of her clothes...

ShopGirl said...

Thank you Sophie. I'm very pleased you find it entertaining, as I got calls from friends worried about the 'self-loathing' part and I suddenly worried it all sounded too serious! I'm a bit of a drama queen but I do laugh at myself too!

Control freakery is a wonderful flaw to work with, and your heroine is right, objects, especially mobile phones and wallets really would spoil the line of her clothes, and maybe even a hair band too :)

Thanks again for reading! X