One of the biggest concerns us aspiring authors have is whether or not our audience connects with our protagonist or our cast of characters, for that matter. Did we make a likable character? Did our readers care about the character enough to keep reading?
It’s such a huge worry for all of us. But exploring flaws is the key to developing rich, morally ambiguous characters that we can both love, hate…or feel an odd mixture of both. Characters don’t always need to be perfect; like humans, we’re imperfect. When we strive to make characters too likable, we chance writing one-dimensional, cardboard cutouts and not flesh and bones.
I want to love a character and also hate them. I want to disagree with their lack of ethics and disagree with the way they view the world. I don’t mind being turned off by what he or she has done. Does every character need to be endearing and sweet? Do they all need to see life the way you and I do? Bleh. Imagine reading books with characters who never kill, never curse, wait until they’re married to have sex…Ugh.
Not only would that be dull, but it’s not reality!
In real life, there are psychopaths. In real life, people are racist. In real life, people lie, cheat, steal, curse like sailors, suffer from mental health issues, have addictions, and meaningless one-night stands. The truth is we need morally grey characters more than we need the perfect ones. Don’t give me someone perfect. Give me someone who makes stupid mistakes, drinks too much, sometimes fails in life, and has regrets.
Give me someone that bleeds, a human being whose heart beats.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve written a morally grey character and you’re worried about what people might think, don’t be. If you’ve pushed the envelope and tried something new, don’t second guess yourself. If you’ve tapped into imperfection and human flaws, then damn it, that’s fantastic. Don’t get caught up with perfection. Don’t expect everyone to like all of your characters. There are good, bad, and evil types of people, and those that are somewhere in between. We need them all. A novel with damaged souls is a book worth reading. After all, it’s life, and good fiction is often inspired by truth.