Thursday, May 30, 2013

Characters Who Are Broken and Beautiful

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Often we talk about how characters shouldn't be perfect, how they should have flaws. While I think this is true, I think it can also be a bit confusing. Because sometimes assigning flaws to a character can create a trait that's too superficial (she doesn't put the cap back on the family tube of toothpaste) and other times the flaws are so abrasive, the character becomes too hard to like.

So instead of talking about flaws, let's try talking about brokenness.

How is your character broken?

All people have brokenness in their lives, and characters should too. 

In The Hunger Games, Katniss is broken in that her father died unexpectedly and she's had to take care of her family ever since. This is something in her life that has broken her, that she's had to rebuild from.

In Delirium by Lauren Oliver, Lena is broken by having a mother who, she believes, chose suicide over her. In Captives, by Jill Williamson, Omar is broken in that his father has never approved of him. In my book, The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, Ellie is broken in that she's always been overshadowed by her best friend and older brother.

And these broken places lead the character's to act in ways that might be labelled as flaws - Katniss tends to be callous, Lena conforms to society out of fear of getting "infected" and ending up like her mother, Omar's desire for approval has tragic consequences, and Ellie allows others to walk all over her because she lacks a sense of self-worth.

How is your character beautiful?

While the brokenness of a character is vital to endearing a reader, so is their beauty. Katniss's inner strength is beautiful, as is Lena putting aside fear to embrace love.

Cinderella and Rapunzel are beautiful in how they sing and do good for others, despite living in abusive homes. 

What about your main character? How is he or she broken? Beautiful? And try this exercise on your villain or primary antagonist as well!

Also, yesterday I had the privilege of guest posting on the MacGregor Literary agency site. I talked about how I fell in love with blogging, and why I feel Go Teen Writers has grown the way it has. It was a rather scary post to write, since the MacGregor Literary blog is one of my favorite writing sites ever, so if you want to come say hello to me over there, I would appreciate it!

62 comments:

  1. ...I just realized that my main character--Ross--is not 'broken'. O_o Well, that's a twist from my usual characters-with-scarred-pasts that I wrote for a while. XD Ross is beautiful in the way he puts others' safety ahead of his own, and is compassionate. :)

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    1. It's good to try new things with our stories!

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  2. Oh my. This is so funny. In the book I'm writing, my FMC is...Katniss. xD And my MMC is...Omar. That is just, wow. xD

    In the book I *coughshouldbecough* am editing, my main character is broken in that she's been hurt by so many people. She's beautiful because she doesn't only care about herself--she wants to help others not be hurt the same way she was.

    Thanks for this post, been thinking about this recently too :) Heading over to your other post now!

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    1. Oh, what a funny thing to discover! I'm always interested in how characters can sound similar when we talk about them but then be so different in different stories. Like how books can sound similar in concept but still be very different from each other.

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    2. Yeah, that's always interesting. I guess how so many people can have a similar basic idea but very, very different stories is because we all take an idea and grow it differently. Kind of like the "take 100 artists and have them draw the same chair" example. :)

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  3. Oh, I LOVE it when they do this in books!!!!! I'm a sucker for the sob story. All my favourite book characters are broken and beautiful. In my WIP, my FMC is broken by her father's death and the fact that (she thinks) none of her friends understand how it's changed her, so she hides the change and pretends nothing's wrong. My MMC is broken by his mother's mental illness and the indifference of his new guardians, his aunt and uncle. Thanks for another amazing post, Stephanie!

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  4. Taylor is not broken until her daughter falls into a coma.
    Jessica is broken because the disease she has has hurt many people, and she doesn't want to leave that kind of thing behind.
    ---
    Athena is broken when her parents leave her to take care of her two month old sister (who is illegal) and never come back.
    Silas is broken because his Dad could have died a month ago and he doesn't even know
    Clay is broken because he went through training in the Officials and could never do something special to get recognition.

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    1. Yours are awesome! You're W.I.P sounds so interesting! :)

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    2. Thanks! They are actually two different stories, but I'm pretty excited about how they're turning out : )

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  5. LOVED this post! Just realized how my character isn't broken. She's beautiful, and has flaws, but she isn't exactly broken. I think it is good to have a broken character so people can relate to them. :) But they also need to be beautiful, so people can love them and care about them. Thanks for all your help!

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  6. Ahh for once I can actually say I'm doing something right since I don't have to go back to my novel and fix something! My MC Falcon is broken because her mother abandoned her weeks after the death or her father. She is beautiful because though she's and angry fierce person, her love for other people is even more fierce.
    Cade(love interest)- Is broken because his one chance to live a free life was snatched away when he was just a boy. He's beautiful because of his deep want to change his life and be a good person.

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    1. I love the names Falcon and Cade! These sound great, Kim.

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  7. In my WiP in planning, Ryan is broken because she thinks all the problems around her are hers to fix and her life won't have any value if she can't fix them. However, that is also kind of how she's beautiful, too, because she always tries to fix things that have nothing to do with her.
    Thanks for the great post, Stephanie! You really knocked it out of the park for me today.
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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    1. Ryan sounds very cool! She sounds a little like Jane Austen's Emma, who has problems with meddling, but her heart is in the right place.

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  8. My main character is beautiful in that she sees life through rose-colored glasses, but I'm not really sure how she's broken. She tends to run headlong into things, but I'm not sure why.

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    1. Well, that's interesting, Ashley. It'll be fun to figure it out :)

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  9. My FMC lost her father at a young age and she resents how controlling her mother is so she tends to rebel. The beauty? I suppose it would be her undying loyalty.

    Great post, Stephanie!

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  10. Let's see Elizabeth is kinda complicated. In the beginning she was broken because her mom had died when she was young and her dad didn't seem to care but her brother helped her rebuild but she isn't completely put back together. Then in the end of the book and all through the second one she is broken by her brother's death. She is beautiful in the way she thinks logically about subjects but isn't afraid to trust her gut instinct which allows her to protect people (her ultimate drive in life)even if it means her life. Hope that makes sense.

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    1. Yes, that makes sense. I love characters who should be afraid, but somehow push past it. Great job!

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  11. I wouldn't say my character is "broken" inasmuch that she has simply endured the hardships that might plague any real human. Even though both of her parents have died, they did not suffer tragic ends and she considers her lowly position a privilege. So I guess that is what makes her beautiful.

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  12. Jayne is broken because her father died unexpectedly and turned her world upside-down. She takes on so much responsibility that it hurts, and she refuses to appear weak. She is beautiful because she has oodles of empathy and compassion for those she encounters - she doesn't let her pain keep her from helping others.

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    1. That sounds great, Lydia. Characters who help others when they could easily/understandably sit around feeling sorry for themselves are so endearing!

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  13. Finley is broken because no foster home would accept her for very long. She kept having to run away or was kicked out/transferred. She's beautiful because she's independent and fiercely protective of others who don't fit in with everyone else.
    Tallon is broken because he believes its his fault his dad died. He believed he could have saved him. He's beautiful because he's noble (almost to a fault) and is willing to take on anything to prevent his twin brother, mother, and friends from feeling pain.

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    1. These sound like great characters. And what awesome names too!

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  14. In a story I am writing, my MC Christina is broken because her father died in the Twin Towers, she is self-centered because she believes no one understands, and when her mentally perfect image of her father is shattered, it really hurts her....
    How is she beautiful???? Hm...maybe she isn't! That gives me something to work on...
    Thanks so much! Naomi

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    1. Naomi, it's funny how for some characters, the "beauty" takes some work. We know we love them, we're just not sure why :)

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    2. Thanks, Mrs. Morrill! I guess now- I was working on it today :-) - she could be considered beautiful because she realized her faults and is trying to change. I might have to add a but more beauty, though, for earlier in the story. :-)
      Naomi

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    3. Also she could be seen as beautiful because of her blind love for her father. Perhaps those she loves--her friends, relatives, etc.--she chooses to overlook their faults?

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  15. Stephanie, I loved this post. It was awesome. Thanks so much for the post! And congrats on guest-blogging, by the way.

    Dem is broken because he's callous in order to conform and survive, and he's stubborn, and he's beautiful because of how he lets himself realize that he made a huge mistake and becomes a very stubborn rebel.
    Luria (female MC) is broken because her mother got paralyzed by someone (essentially, a death sentence) several years ago-- and maybe it was Dem. She's beautiful because she advocates for what she believes in and stands up for others so they don't get paralyzed like her mom did.
    Katia

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    1. These sound like awesome characters, Katia!

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  16. My main character in Sixteen is broken in that she and her parents have a rift between them and she and her mom particularly don't get along.

    My main character in my current draft, Kaimalie and the Mermaid, is broken in that her parents are rich and she feels like she doesn't belong in that life. The other MC, Vivica (the mermaid), is broken in that her mother left their family to become a siren after a miscarriage broke her heart. It's very similar to the Delirium character; the mother chose to give up her family, her heart and soul, and her life in exchange for eternal youth and beauty without emotion feeding off men she lures to their deaths.

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    1. That sounds excellent, Emily! Very well thought out.

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  17. My MC, Corinne, is broken because her family just moved across the country, and she doesn't quite belong in her new town. She is beautiful because she stands up for her views and tries to make a difference.

    Another character is broken because she can't find a way to keep her promise to her sister, who had passed away. I don't know why she is beautiful actually, because her past makes her extremely jealous of others and sort of ugly...

    I loved this post as well as your guest post, Stephanie!

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    1. Thank you, Jill! And your characters sound great. Even the one who you haven't figured out the beauty part yet, you've put her in a very sympathetic situation.

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  18. Avery (FMC) has lost everyone she knew and loved in a natural disaster, so she's got a hard time trusting people because she's afraid she'll lose them. (Now that I mention that, I think I need to show that reason more in the story..) It also makes her unfailingly loyal to the one friend who survived with her. Thanks for the post! I think I need to diversify my characters a bit.

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    1. Wow, I love your description there! :)

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    2. Very interesting, Kaitlin! I love this.

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  19. Would you consider sharing some of the cool things that people submitted for the Go Teen Writers store? After the store closes it would be nice to see some of the creative ways people earned points.

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    1. Sure, we can do that! There's been some fun stuff!

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  20. My FMC attacked and driven from her home country when she accidently kills the man who was abusing her sister

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  21. My MC in my Language Arts story (we're having tons of giant end of the year projects), Ava, is broken because her fate is sealed and there's no way to turn back. She's beautiful because being trapped makes her hopeful. There's always something or somebody to be hopeful for (or just hopes she can get out of her mess).
    Coriander is broken because the only way he could save his parents from paying for their treason was to join a secret organization dedicated to picking off each and every Lord, Lady, and King (did I mention it's medieval...). He's beautiful (or handsome, I guess) because he strives to do it all perfectly to help the people he loves.

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    1. Very interesting, Alyson! These sound like really great characters.

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  22. A primary character in my work-in-progress has been repeatedly broken for the past seventy years in a prison.(Okay, he's an elf, he lives a long time). But beauty shines out as he keeps firm in his decision never to give in to his captor's desires. And when at last he does escape, his journey in learning to trust, love, and hope again is also beautiful, as he determines to keep his new friends safe from all he's experienced.

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    1. That sounds very interesting, Hannah! Kind of a Count of Monte Cristo vibe...with elves :)

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  23. My main character is broken since both of her parents abandoned her and then after realizing they were tricked, died. Great post!!!!!!

    Layla.

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  24. my main character is broken by the fact that he is the only remaining member of his family left alive after an unexpected attack on his home, and he is forced into slavery. He's beautiful because, despite his initial bitterness, he won't let the same thing happen to his new acquaintances, some of whom were the ones who made him a slave.

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    1. Oh, wow, very interesting, Ely. Good work!

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  25. Ermintrude Beresford is broken because her mother died the other year, and on top of that, Ermie's an invalid, and her father dies in the tragic sinking of Titanic. Ermie's beautiful because she has faith in God that He will carry her through the dark valleys of sorrow. And that Ermie eventually discovers that even when the future is dark, and there seems to be no answer to her whys, that God is still watching over her and guiding her life in ways she little dreamed of.

    -Patience

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  26. Faye is broken because her village was burnt down by an unknown renegade group when she was a child. Several years later she learns that the very people who "took her in", along with other children, were the ones who burnt down the village. She is beautiful because despite things looking grim, she still keeps faith and is determined to help people escape from their captors even it means her being the only person not making it out.

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  27. I think this is one of my favourite posts ever. My main character, she's broken because she took something for granted and lost it. She's beautiful because now she treats life with a sense of dignity.

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  28. Teveon is broken because his parents abused him emotionally as a child. He is beautiful because it drove him to rescue his infant sister from their reach and raise her himself.

    Speaking of him, could this philosophy also apply to antagonists?

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    1. Absolutely! It'd be very cool to do this with antagonists.

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  29. I so loved this post, Stephanie! I sympathize most with broken characters, and I think I have something of this 'characters-who-are-broken-and-beautiful' in all of my stories. It brings to mind the Scripture that says that God is near to the broken-hearted and of a contrite spirit. :)

    God bless!
    Joy @ joy-live4jesus.blogspot.com

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  30. Thanks Stephanie! You've given me the secret to fleshing out my characters. Rael is broken in that her older brother was killed by dragons. She's beautiful in that she's loyal. She'd die for her friends if she had to.

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  31. Happening on this post late to the party, but I've been thinking a lot about my characters lately, so... Nadia is broken because she has lost everything she has ever gained. She is beautiful because she determines to persist and fight instead of giving up and succumbing to the apathy it instilled in her.
    Marion, one antagonist, is broken because her 'sister', the only person she cared about, gave up her life for the human race, whom Marion views as worthless. She is beautiful because she is passionate and loud.
    Koto, the last antagonist, is most difficult... She is broken because she is very old, and in a way expresses both Nadia and Marion's brokenness; she has lost everything, she has gone past the point of overreacting as Marion has. She is beautiful because she is thoughtful and artistic, and has come to appreciate time as a beauty unto itself.

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  32. My MC is broken but is unaware of it. When he finds out about his past, it breaks his emotionally.

    He is beautiful because he is kind and always gives the poor more food than he they pay for (because they can't afford it). He is also a very happy person.


    My villain is broken too, she has been tested on by the government since she was 8 and finally escaped when she was 10, but by then her family didn't recognise her because of the tests.

    She is beautiful because her rage against the government is not the help herself or as revenge, but so that they cannot harm other akin to her.

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