Let’s talk characters today. More to the point, let’s talk about characters with serious personality flaws. The following text is an excerpt from a review of Condemned on BarnesandNoble.com:
“I also have a problem with the heroine making stupid choices especially when it drives apart her marriage. It reminds me of those insipid romance stories with all the simpering angst when you know they are going to end up together. I still think Kim made the wrong choice because she did not consider her husband nor her children. I understand about miracles however I don’t think we should take such HUGE risks and rely on miracles to see us through–rather self-centered.”
Without giving away the plot to those who haven’t read Condemned, the main character (Kimberly Schaefer) does a series of things which end up driving a wedge between her husband and her. And then, in their worst moment, she does something of such extraordinary stupidity, selfishness, and recklessness that even some of my beta readers were messaging me with “WTF?!?!?!” Kim knows what she is doing is reckless and dangerous. She knows it’s stupid. Probably in the back of her mind, she even knows it’s excruciatingly selfish.
This particular reader’s angst with the story – Kim’s reckless, selfish, stupid decisions and how she made them despite the risk to her life and her marriage and without considering her husband and children – is in fact a reaction to the most important facet of Kim’s personality. Recklessness is an intrinsic part of her personality – a flaw in so many ways; in others, an indication of her marvelous, unwonted fearlessness.
I wrote Kimberly’s character without fear myself, crafting her with rough edges and a stubborn streak. I presented her to the reading world with a lot trepidation about her reception. My own daughter, in fact, said “That Kimberly – I just wanted to smack her upside the head!” Yes! that is EXACTLY the reaction I was aiming for as a writer: creating a character that inspired emotion but not necessarily the emotions readers were expecting.
As readers, what’s your take on a flawed main character – one, say, who does stupid things, makes stupid choices, and flamebroils her own life? Do you prefer Polly Perfect, who always does the right thing, knows the right thing, says the right thing? Or Mary-in-the-Middle, who may misspeak or misstep but not too tragically? Do the Commando Kimberlys, who charge ahead without thought or regard, ruin a story for you or make the facets of the character more believable?
Author’s Note: Please don’t take this post as arguing with a review. This is a discussion of readers’ reactions to flawed characters, and the review was used as an example of that reaction. This is not at all a discourse on whether or not the reviewer was mistaken or petty; I value all feedback, even those voicing negative opinions.