Thursday, May 24, 2007

Flawed Idealism

Last night I finished reading a book that actually was on my must read book list..wahoo. It was Sarah Gruen's WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. I probably wouldn't have picked this book up, just because it was too popular, but Sara is a member of a writing community, Backspace, that I also belong to and it's a very supportive place...everyone tries to read everyone else's books. This book is a serious success and now I know why. Sarah is a genius with flawed characters. Genius. Of course, it's a great story and I have a whole new appreciation for the history of the circus which, in and of itself, is a bonus. Anytime I close a book and have learned something new or can appreciate some aspect of life I normally wouldn't look twice at, I am a happy reader. As a writer, though, I was completely envious of the ease with which she created these messy, heartbreaking, real with a capital R characters. It made me wonder, do I just not pay enough attention to people? Do I just not have enough messy, heartbreaking people in my back history to pull from? HA. No, that's not it. I have plenty of messy, real people in my life to study but when it comes to making up people, I tend to lean toward the idealistic. Why?

I'm also in the middle of M. Atwood's CAT'S EYE and she, too, is brilliant with creating characters with cracks, weaknesses and painful histories. I get it. I just can't seem to translate it to paper.

Then there's the question, when I'm completely honest with I really want to? When I look back at my main characters, they are people who I would look up to in real life, people who I would want as friends. People with backbones. I think Ayn Rand really influenced me more than I realized in this area of writing. Her characters were the kind of people I would want in my life, though I know people personally that hate her books for this reason--because her characters aren't realistic.

I do feel like I'm creating characters that I want to spend time with; people that I want to stay with for 300 plus pages, BUT I also know the reader has to identify with the characters and that means flaws, that means being human. And, of course, people can have backbones and ideals and still have flaws. I think that's the middle ground I need to find my big feet standing on.

I'll have to work on this.

Anyway, I'm officially at the halfway point with STRANGE NEW FEET. It's all downhill from here. Well, not really...but from here, it will be closer to the end than the beginning.

I'll leave you with a quote from THE FOUNTAINHEAD:

"Show me your achievement, and the knowledge will give me courage for mine."


Anonymous said...

But there are writers who also do wonderful things with characters who aren't so flawed. Sometimes it helps to make a story that much more enjoyable when the reader doesn't have to wallow in the muddy depths of a character's life. Yes, flaws make us interesting, but so do strengths. I still say: write what you know. If you're not happy with what you've written, strive to change. Ultimately, we as writers have to like what we've created on the page before we can send it out to the world. I feel that way about Ann Patchett's work. Wonderfully flawed and incredibly insightful...but that's her writing, not mine.

B.E. Sanderson said...

The important thing to remember is not every Rand character is a Galt or Roark. Look at Eddie Willers, Dagny Taggart, Dominique Francon and Gail Wynand. Each of them flawed, and each in their own way heroic. I think writing characters whose only saving grace is the fact that they're flawed does the human race a disservice. We are more than the sum of our flaws.

And if you're looking for a beta reader, let me know. =oD

Shannon said...

Christian--I guess it's just hard not to compare your own writing with someone else's when you see that theirs is working. It's that darn insecurity gene.

b.e.--Yeah, those characters seem to be there to highlight the main character's virtues. I can do that, it's the whole mixing the two in one person to create a normal human being that I have trouble with.
Appreciate the offer, when I get this story all sorted, I'd be glad to read your's, too.