Monday, September 27, 2010

Finding Balance

Today is my post for The Great Blogging Experiment. As usual I'm a little late, but I had a guest on Friday, so I have an excuse (sort of). The topic for the experiment is how to write compelling characters.

For me it's all about balance. Think of Yin and Yang. Characters are people, they just happen to be people in a story. Sometimes they are sparkly vampires, fallen dark angels, impetuous little girls, or even dirt eating dwarves, but they are always people underneath it all. People are flawed.

Characters, or at least protagonists, must also almost always overcome some kind of conflict. Whether they use cunning, strength, dexterity or good old dumb luck the character must have some kind of skill or talent with which to overcome the conflict and make the choice that allows them to do so. These abilities are like the Yang side of a character or person. People in real life do have talents. It's what makes them an asset at their workplace, the best hitter on their softball team, or the better parent in their family at diffusing toddler meltdowns. Characters in books or film can have their talents magnified or blurred, depending on where in the spectrum between superhero action story and depressing melodrama the story in which they exist lies.

Characters must also be flawed. Flawed and sometimes vulnerable. They must grow jealous of others who have more than them. They must covet things that they want but cannot have. They must be selfish when it comes to resources that allow for survival. These weaknesses are like the Yin side of a character or person. There are many more examples but the point is that for characters to be believable, even lovable, they must be human. Vulnerability is the other side of the coin. Whether emotionally vulnerable or in actual physical danger vulnerability is a sense of weakness that is not the character's fault. Flaws are a part of who they are; vulnerability is a part of a situation they are in. Picture Harry, Ron and Hermione in that tent in the woods in The Deathly Hallows. Can you imagine a position of greater vulnerability?

Keep in mind that in Taoist philosophy (which the concept of Yin and Yang comes from), there is no good and evil, only balance.

I could go on about all of this but I won't. For it simply all comes down to balance. Characters must have talents, to get them through obstacles, but they must also be flawed and occasionally vulnerable in order to make them believable.

I can't add the linky list below because it is closed, but please visit Elana's post, here, to see the original list of entries for this awesome blogfest!

36 comments:

Bish Denham said...

Wonderful comparison Matt! I like the yin/yang concept.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Flaws was the #1 thing mentioned during the compelling characters experiment. Shows you how important it is.

The goal is not to make the characters overly flawed. I love your point, Mathew. Balance is the key to everything. :)

Slamdunk said...

Good post Matthew. Finding a balance with flaws in your main character is a challenge, but the author's effort can certainly makes the story appealing to the reader.

Candyland said...

Balance is very important and this is a great comparison with yin and yang. Though, I find myself always teetering on one end more than the other.

Em-Musing said...

Flawed, yes, as we all are. Who me?

Christine Fonseca said...

I love the idea of characters being balanced - the light and the dark. NICE!

Renae said...

I like the idea of balance. Your yin/yang comparison was brilliant. Well done Matt!

Vicki Rocho said...

Excellent points. I'm big into balance!

Piedmont Writer said...

Yes, very well done Matthew. I think most people strive for balance in their daily lives therefore most characters are balanced. Those that are not have words like - obnoxious, greedy, wimpy, stoic etc. -- attached to them. This is what makes compelling characters, the flaw, the out of balance.
And then to show the opposite of that flaw, well, then there is the most compelling part of that character. He's obnoxious at work but kind to his mother.

DEZMOND said...

like in real life, balance is needed in books too! Unless it's a crazy book with crazy story and with totally crazy characters where imbalance is totally welcomed :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

I love the idea of yin and yang for characters!

Hannah Kincade said...

ooh, Yin and Yang! I love your take on this. Great job...if a tad late. ;)

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Well rounded characters are really more likable, Matthew, you're right about that.

Also, it may please you to know that I've posted a link on my blog post today for your Thursday post. You gave me a lot of things to think about and I hope my readers will come check it out.

Matthew Rush said...

Wow. Cool. Thanks Jeffrey.

Melissa Gill said...

I love the idea of balance in your characters. This is something I struggle with. Especially with villians. How to give them good traits. Or at least humanize them in some way.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I love the idea of balance in characters. I do like a good flaw. I can't relate if the character is too perfect.

Great post.

Old Kitty said...

Yay for the ying and yang concept!! Characters must be balanced overall!! :-)
The one thing I find reading the blog entries for this blogfest is how characters are better when they are complex.

Brilliant! Take care
x

Michelle McLean said...

Balance - perfect! Very true, great post! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Excellent points, Matthew! (Saved the best for last I see.) Flawed characters are the most compelling.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Definitely- no character can be all good 'n pure just like you can have a completely evil villain. There's always a grey area that pulls the reader in and helps us identify with the characters. Great post!

Jared Larson said...

Great post. And yeah, you're so right. How can a sparkly vampire not be well balanced? Perfect example. I love sparkly vampires.

Ted Cross said...

The biggest problem I have is finding flaws that feel natural to the character and aren't just something tacked on to them or too similar to some other famous character out there.

mshatch said...

Great post! And I so agree that characters must be balanced, because in real life, people are a mix of both. Writing them this way makes them believeable and believeavble characters are what makes a good story great - like Silence of the Lambs for example.

Colene Murphy said...

Awesome point about balance! It's always worth you being late when we get to finally read your insight.

LTM said...

great post, and very true. Also sometimes that struggle to find the balance or to fight the black or what that's attempting to take over can make for great conflict~ :o) <3

Shannon said...

Great post, Matt. =) I absolutely agree that finding balance is key to all things, including our characters. Great job at illustrating your point. <3

Justine Dell said...

It's all about the flaws. Almost every entrant mentioned this. So, yeah, it's huge!

I find myself mentally cataloging all the flaws in characters I read about, in hopes of figuring out that special formula. ;-)

~JD

arlee bird said...

The concept of balance is so important for creatiing realism. In real life no one is all bad or all good-- it's more complex than that. The conflict between and antagonist and protagonist should be be made more interesting with the added inner conflicts of each character, otherwise the story is over simplified and lacks depth.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I know this intrinsically, but sometimes I have a hard time putting a label on my yin/yang characteristics (not mine, the characters). I think being able to name it has power though.

Great post!

Joanne Brothwell said...

I enjoy the flaws in my characters. Right now I have a wonderfully sarcastic hero I'm writing, and sometimes his comments get him in some deep do do! I love it!

Cinette said...

Love the balance angle of your post. No one likes a perfect protagonist anyway!

Carolyn Abiad said...

My thoughts exactly! In fact, I was drafting a post which explores taoism for next Wednesday (in which I will now add a link back here.) Also wanted to mention that I gave you a shout out in my guest post (tomorrow 9/28) over at Tracymarchini.com.

Dominique said...

Vulnerability is one I haven't heard before, but it's brilliant. After all, it doesn't matter what the character's flaws are if they're never put in a position for them to come to light.

Good post.

Kirsty said...

I've read a lot of these character rules in blogland lately and I have to say your yin and yang comparison has got to be the best.. or rather my favourite. :D

VICTORIA SAAVEDRA said...

Flaws are important. Awesome post!

Stephen Tremp said...

Funny you mention dark fallen angels as I'm working on a particular section of a yet to be released book. He makes a comeback, and what a comeback! Oh, and the yin and the yang. That too. We must be on the same wave lenght tonight.

Hey, better late than never. That's my motto.

Stephen Tremp