Sept. 29, 2014
Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts
Mistake Number Four: Infallible or Underdeveloped Characters
This is the fourth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important “common” mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Infallible or Underdeveloped Characters.”
Too much description and narration
Switching viewpoints in the same scene
A negative tone throughout the story
Infallible or underdeveloped characters
Stilted or unnatural dialogue
No significant conflict
Weak transitions between paragraphs
Passive verbs instead of active verbs
Lack of sensory detail
Lack of emotion or action
We’ll define infallible characters this time then move on to a more in-depth study of underdeveloped characters in the next blog. So let’s look at our first character type.
It’s quite the temptation to create a character who is infallible, reasoning that every reader will love your hero and, thus, love the book. However, it’s also quite impossible to write an exciting story arc with a breath-taking climax and resolution if you don’t build in any tension or conflict that your main character sees through his/her eyes and even might have been caused by one of your hero’s flaws or his/her flawed reaction to the crisis. We’re all aware that the definition of “infallible” is incapable of making a mistake. So, if we create infallible characters, we are creating impossible characters…unless we’re writing about God.
A clever author will work hard to plug in something irritating, a little quirk or a bad reputation from his past or whatever, just to make the person human. Your readers will enjoy your story much more. Why? Because they’ll identify with that character’s weakness in some way, possibly even feel sorry for him, and root for him to get the upper hand at the end of the book.
Let’s look at a few super heroes (in books or movies) and see if we can identify at least one weakness in their characters. Remember the weaknesses are evident; yet, the authors cleverly imbed them into the characters’ personalities so the readers still have a sense of pity or good will for the heroes, hoping that “all will be well” at the end of the book or movie.
What most evident weakness or flaw do you recognize in these characters? Or can you name more than one flaw but you still liked them or rooted for them all the way through the book or movie?
Captain Ahab in MOBY DICK
King Arthur in CAMELOT
Judah Ben-Hur in BEN-HUR
Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND
George Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
Indiana Jones in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Kevin in HOME ALONE
Professor Higgins in MY FAIR LADY
Okay, let’s see if any of your flaws match my choices:
Captain Ahab – has a big-time bitterness problem (against an animal, no less!) that turns into a hatred onto death (unfortunately, his own death)
King Arthur – violates his own code of righteousness with indecision and concealing his wife and his best friend’s infidelity
Ben-Hur – another man with a root of bitterness that drives him to kill…that is, until God impacts his life
Scarlett O’Hara – yes, dear Scarlett, the conniver who schemes her way through every facet of her life
George Bailey – has a stroke of cowardice that almost costs him his life and almost destroys his family and business
Indiana Jones – an impatient thrill seeker who endangers the lives of friends around him
Kevin – disobedient and impertinent that causes unparalleled angst for his family and does untold damage to his home (Yes, I agree; it is a funny movie. We’re just “analyzing” here.)
Professor Higgins – arrogant as all get out and is blind to the emotional needs of others
So, how’d we do on our flaw matches? Remember, I only named one or two flaws for these characters. Some of them, like Captain Ahab and Scarlett O’Hara, probably have a list of flaws longer than their redeeming qualities; yet, we have read or watched on the edge of our seats, hoping the heroes or heroines would win in the end.
It would be worth our while to study the authors’ techniques that created these fascinating characters and take special note of how they so cleverly incorporated flaws and shortcomings as well as the characters’ “good side” that made all of them unforgettable. Of such, best-selling classics are made.
Next time, we’ll take a look at stilted or unnatural dialogue. Happy writing!