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Hobbling Your Darlings

January 7, 2010

(A vague nod to Misery seemed appropriate, given that I’m still sick in bed and the snow is piling up outside. Here’s hoping Kathy Bates doesn’t show up.)

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about flawed characters. I knew from the outset of this project that I didn’t want the stars of my story to be perfect–what fun is that?–but it’s becoming more and more evident that my characters’ personal problems are, shall we say…not insignificant. And you know what? I’m delighted. I love that my characters are going to battle both their personal demons and the evils of the world. I love that they are going to be anxious, moody, and impulsive as well as brave, loyal, and kind. I don’t want them to be pristine heroes. I want them to be messy and complicated and still save the day.

All of these musings led me to think yet again of the Harry Potter series, which appears to be emerging as my default example for anything I enjoy in writing. (I read other books, too, I swear.) Harry breaks the rules, doesn’t pay attention in class, is hopelessly awkward around girls, and often succeeds purely by accident. Yet countless readers, myself included, still cheer for him, believe in him, and trust that he’ll eventually work everything out. Of course he does, and it’s all the more compelling that he does so despite his flaws and missteps. Would he be as inspiring of a hero if everything always went smoothly for him, if he defeated all challenges with no difficulty and no assistance from others? I don’t think so.

And after all, even Professor McGonagall acknowledges the occasional merits of sheer dumb luck.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. wisemar permalink
    January 7, 2010 9:05 pm

    lol, Harry Potter and Misery! Glad to meet another Harry Potter fan on here. I agree that part of the reason Harry’s such a great Hero is because he is flawed. His assumptions are often wrong, his friends are often cleverer, but he has heart and we want to see him succeed. I think there”s something so much more accessible about him that way.

    • January 7, 2010 11:00 pm

      Hehe a bizarre combination, I know–my reading tastes tend to be pretty eclectic!

      I completely agree about our beloved bespectacled wizard! Harry’s mistakes ground him and make him much easier to relate to. The same could be said for nearly anyone in the series, actually; it’s hard to come up with a single character who doesn’t have some sort of weakness that makes him or her all the more engaging. I’m currently re-reading HP 7 and falling in love with everyone all over again.

      I’m always excited to discover new blogs–I look forward to reading yours. :) Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  2. January 9, 2010 6:17 pm

    True, but I definitely prefer Hermonie as a character over Harry. She is socially awkward as well and has a real chip on her shoulder about being muggle born but she is smart and thoughtful and overall I find her much more interesting than Harry who tends to bumble around until someone points him in the right direction.
    An interesting discussion though. How flawed can a character be before they become irritating?

    • January 9, 2010 8:07 pm

      To be honest, Harry isn’t my favorite HP character, either–I just think he’s a good example of a hero who, as you said, “tends to bumble around” yet still motivates readers to root for him. I completely agree with your assessment of Hermione, but for whatever reason have never felt personally attached to her. I think that no matter which particular character a given reader may prefer, though, J.K. Rowling is adept at creating multifaceted personalities. Lupin and Sirius, for example, are two of my favorites from the series, and they’re also shown to have their share of flaws.

      That’s an intriguing question! Some characters, after all, are meant to be so flawed that they’re irritating, while others walk the line more cautiously. What’s your threshold for character imperfections?

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  1. A Conversation With My Characters « TWADDLE OR ANYTHING

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