Hiyo, everyone! Today, I’m going to talk about something a bit different – why I like writing ultra messed up characters in my work! I don’t plan on actually discussing my own characters in any depth; analyzing them is best left to the readers. Shameless plug – if you want to see some examples, please check out my sample fiction, Borne of Fear, here.
When writers discuss character flaws, they often express their dislike of ‘Mary Sue’s – characters who don’t have any large flaws. And they definitely have a point. It’s important for major characters in any work to start with flaws, not only to make them more believable, and also to leave room for character development. Fiction is most interesting to experience when the protagonists struggle against themselves in the process of pursuing their goals. But, in this post, I don’t intend to discuss your everyday flaws. I want to talk about characters who are so flawed it’s hard to look past their shortcomings. Here are two reasons why I love including them in my work!
They offer unusual perspectives
It’s safe to say those of us who frequently experience fiction have met multitudes of protagonists with straightforward good intentions. If they don’t want to save the world, they at least want to protect their loved ones. Maybe they have some personal ambition – to excel in their field of choice, to hook up with their ideal partner, or just to find a place for themselves in the world. Characters with such goals work because they’re relatable. Just about everyone has desires like that. It’s easy to get into that protagonist’s shoes.
But what about a character who wants to destroy the world? To be fair, they’re not all that uncommon, either. What sets the interesting ones apart from the rest is learning why they’re pursuing that goal. If they aren’t given a compelling reason, that turns into a letdown for the reader. But when they do have a good reason, they can be marvels to behold. There’s something satisfying about hearing a ‘bad’ character spout their twisted logic and seeing whether there’s any part of yourself that at all agrees. That could just be me, (in which case you all probably now think I’m crazy) but I don’t think so, because readers tend to latch on to those characters. They’re fun to analyze, and, deep down, some of us may want to learn if we, too, are a little messed up in places.
A similar thought process builds intrigue for characters who don’t want to destroy the world, but who have personal goals that would generally be considered ‘not okay.’ For instance, imagine a serial killer who wants to make their kill count as high as possible, or a financial trader whose secret ambition is to crash the global market. Such goals are more interesting to consider than ones based on, say, sheer greed. A character who wants to do terrible things that offer no tangible benefit to themself is inherently more intriguing. And the more invested the reader is in the story, the better!
They present a challenge
As a writer, once I’ve developed a screwed up character with sick goals, I strive to go one step further. I challenge myself to make that character relatable, if only a little bit. Behind all those mental gymnastics and fragile excuses, there exists a person who wants something akin to the rest of us. I want my readers to make that connection. Even if they neither like nor pity the monster I’ve created, I strive to lead them to understand the journey that brought my character to take such extreme actions. If you look closely enough, you may find the remnants of a person who wanted something not so different from the protagonists I described above. Love. A place in the world. Some meaning in their lives. The deeply flawed character may have gone too far, or lost too much self-awareness in pursuit of their goal to understand what they’ve become. I want to show that train wreck in full. I want my readers to be able to imagine the better people my characters might have become if they’d made different choices along the way.
So, darker topic today! Please let me know what you thought! Do you find yourself intrigued by deeply flawed characters? Do you think they’re overdone? Would you like to see more posts like this? I’m eager for your feedback. ‘Til next time, have a wonderful week, and ciao!