Sunday, March 3, 2013

Flaw Power!

How perfect are your characters? Are they James Bond impossibilities, capable of seducing literally any person (or animal...?) and doing anything, or do they actually have real human limits?

So many of us, myself included, create attractive characters with normal or excellent social skills, or with great wealth or intellect. That's well and good, but the negative ends are great as well. There's much to be gained from reading about characters conquering their flaws. It's easy to make someone like an attractive and affable character, less so for someone hideous or mad. It's not all about evoking pity, either - it's about creating characters with limits lower than the readers', and then putting those characters in situations that are beyond them. Giving people with two arms, two legs and a healthy neurological and immune system a glimpse at what normal things to them are difficult for others. When you have a character with limits, you can remind the reader of the miracle of basic things, like walking and talking.

I know one of the fabulously talented Nanopals, @_vajk is writing her book, excellently titled Half a Man, about a one-armed orphan who slowly and haphazardly becomes a wizard. I have read some of it and I had some good laughs. I am excited to learn more. And if memory serves, the book opens with a scene about how difficult it is to climb onto a rooftop with only one arm. Climbing isn't especially easy for me already, but I was suitably reminded, and not obnoxiously so, of how lucky I am to have two arms and legs. After that scene, life goes on for the hero, and not really much of a deal is made of his arm. And why? Because we all got the point. Some things are tough, but that character makes do. We're shown the limits and the abilities of this character and not bludgeoned about the bat by the fact that he's missing an arm and oh poor baby.

But physical disfigurement is one thing - a lack of sociability, or a mental illness, is another.

I've recently begun (belatedly, I know) Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn, in which one of the POVs is a rather traumatized teen girl with completely reasonable trust issues. Honestly, she's far more resilient than I think I would have been in her position, but I think she's a god or something. I'm not done yet, don't tell me. But reading about how she slowly came to trust her companions (she still doesn't yet completely, where I am in Part Three of Last Empire) was a roller coaster ride of annoyance, exasperation and mostly amusement. I felt bad for her, but she's just so naive that it's comical to me.  Watching her work through her mistrust has been an interesting and compelling ride, and I and others thoroughly recommend the series to anyone not "In The Know."

The point here isn't to write about disabled characters to evoke pity for their plight, it's to write characters with different flaws. Having an arm chopped off or removing two legs should be a decision on par with deciding whether or not your character will also be an asshole, and to help us see the point of view of living with that flaw, whatever it is. (I'm already an asshole, so I've got that one down, but I'd rather keep physical impairments in fantasies)

So go write! Show me your flaws, make me learn something about myself!

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