Writing can be a difficult endeavor to navigate. Spending hours at the typewriter or computer or even the trusty note pad throwing words left and right to carve out a story in hopes of making the reader feel something. In doing so, there are so many things to consider. It’s not for the faint of heart and definitely not for the easily distracted. Maybe you’ve been at it awhile and haven’t had the kind of success you envisioned. It isn’t an easy vocation.
Think about it.
We have to come up with a gripping story, one that hasn’t been told before which holds the reader’s interest until the end. It can be as daunting as it is rewarding. We have to do things like incorporate the five senses throughout to make sure we have the reader engaged and come up with an intriguing setting as a wonderful back drop for all the character interactions. What about creating a narrative crackling with possibility? Snappy dialog. We certainly need to all of those things. They are important. They truly are.
But the question remains, why doesn’t anyone like my stuff?
Why am I not getting published?
In some cases it could just be the harsh reality that everything we write doesn’t strike a chord with publishers or friends. In other cases it can be the writing isn’t strong enough yet and we need to hone our craft a bit more. But other times, we might have everything in alignment–the setting, the narrative, the writing, the story–but something is missing. In many cases it can be the characters themselves.
The characters can make or break the piece.
If the characters are one dimensional it makes it hard to relate to them. Think about it. If you have an accountant, named Barry, who is happily married and lives in an affluent neighborhood with manicured lawns and a three bedroom house with a lovely supportive wife, where’s the fun in that? Where is your conflict? Where is the draw to that character? I personally want to punch the guy just to give him something to worry about.
Now, if we use the same Barry, but change a few things, we can make him more interesting. Let’s say he hates working with numbers, but only got his degree in accounting because his father wouldn’t pay for anything else. His father wanted Barry to cook the books for his butcher shop because he’s into drug trafficking or maybe it’s prostitution. And maybe Barry’s a recovering alcoholic because he despises what he does for a living and is miserable. His home life is crap. His troubled second marriage is on the rocks because of his drinking. His wife’s wandering eye has made her distant and more attentive to the men in the neighborhood than to him. He likes to think he doesn’t care, but he does. Barry’s thirty-five pounds over weight and a chain-smoker who is stretched thin with spousal support payments and child support payments to his first wife and is looking for a quick fix. He’s bought a gun he keeps in the locked glove compartment of his car and takes it out and holds it in his lap while driving to and from work. He’s thought about killing himself but is too chicken to pull the trigger. He hasn’t even bought bullets for the gun because he’s too afraid he might use it. One of his high school buddies has come to him with a business proposition which is questionable in the eyes of the law but would take care of his money problems. All he has to do is sign a few papers and file the paperwork anonymously and he’d be on easy street with a cool two hundred grand. He hasn’t made up his mind yet.
That’s a lot of meat to chew on, right?
Think about the conflict and the intrigue and the minefield the character has to navigate each and every day. The second Barry is far more relatable than the first. No one wants to read about perfect characters.
Make them imperfect.
Make them real.
Make them like us.
Give them flaws and hopes and fears and have them make mistakes and deal with the fallout.
If you add flawed characters to the mix, it will make your writing more relatable. Give it a try.
Never give up and always remember to…