Saturday, March 9, 2013

Living in the Gray

It is in my nature to see everything in black and white. Right and wrong. Good and evil. This is why I love math so much. There are rules. If I follow the rules, everything turns out exactly the way it’s supposed to. No questions.

Writing, on the other hand, is definitely not black and white. Lots of wiggle room. Oddly enough, I think this might be why I enjoy writing. It forces me out of my comfort zone. And maybe I like to be a rebel sometimes. ;)

But within my writing, I struggle to write characters who aren’t black and white. My protags are always a little too goody two shoes and my villains are always too evil. In the rational part of my brain (which is a very small part of my brain) I know that normal people live gray lives. No one is utterly perfect or totally evil, but that usually doesn’t carry over into my writing, at least not in the first draft. It’s something I have to fix during revisions, but it never feels as organic as it should be without a lot of rewriting.

So in my current WIP, in addition to the main character’s major flaws that help to drive the plot, I’ve been trying to incorporate lots of tiny flaws that contribute to the plot in more subtle ways. She picks fights with her brother about stupid things. She treats other people like crap because she’s insecure about herself. She lies to her mom even though she has an okay relationship with her. And she just generally makes bad decisions.

Something strange happened, though. Somehow, her biggest flaw has evolved into her seeing the world and the people within it as black and white. Full circle moment, people. ;) It’s a major flaw because she was raised with a pretty skewed view of the world, so her black is closer to a “normal” white and vice versa. This has also evolved into the main thing she has to overcome to complete the main emotional arc of the story. Something I wished I’d known at the beginning, btw, so I wouldn’t have to go back and tweak. Just one of the many perks of being a pantser.

Anyway, the point is that just adding those little flaws has rounded out her character so much and helped me to see her clearer. It’s also brought to light a few subplots I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Now, if I could just figure out the ending, maybe I could finish this beast. ;)

What about you? How do you put your characters solidly in the gray? Any tips for creating the perfectly imperfect character?

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