Archive for January 10th, 2011

January 10, 2011

character, flaws

Do the best characters have the best “flaws”? My favorite characters have deep emotional and/or physical flaws balanced with extraordinary skills or traits. Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games, whose father was killed in the mines and mother basically checked out, has to take care of far more than any sixteen year old should. She has a wall around her heart, but the soul of a warrior, almost reminding me of the goddesses and gods from ancient Greece. Lisbeth Salander of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is truly damaged by her past as a victim of violent crime, but she’s gifted in her amazing ability to research, think differently and her f-you attitude. Or Little Bee, also so damaged by a past of being chased by evil men (the baddies), yet, by teaching herself “Queen’s English” she communicates in this fantastic, completely enchanting way. Lyra, of The Golden Compass, is wily, clever and bold, with a distant father and unknown mother. And what of the physical flaws? Speaking of Little Bee, the other protagonist in the story, Sarah, is missing her middle digit, yet tries to rise above her ordinariness to bravely save a life. And twelve-year-old Ren, of The Good Thief, is missing his left hand. Ren somehow keeps his goodness in the face of doing the bad things he needs to survive. Edgar Sawtelle, deaf, has a unique gift for communicating with the dogs they breed and train. And then there’s Harry Potter. Lightning bolt scar, extraordinary wizard.

How about parents? Do any great characters even have two parents? Of the ones mentioned above, Katniss and Lisbeth have only a mentally disconnected mother; Little Bee was orphaned; Lyra, distant father; (Little Bee’s Sarah, ordinary upbringing, but her normalcy is part of the issue); Edgar’s father died and mother went mad; Ren and Harry, orphaned. Can a great character have a happy childhood? Most of these characters have some truly transportive, joyful moments, despite hardship, like life. It can be hard to make your characters hurt, though. You want them to make the journey whole and happy, even if it will make for a boring read :). But sometimes your book has other ideas.