Boy meets girl, boy and girl live happily ever after. Nice, but not a story. Boy meets girl, boy screws up and loses girl, fights win to her back – that’s a story.
A romance needs conflict. In romantic suspense, conflict often comes from external factors such as an assassin who’s hunting down the heroine. But in many other romantic stories, the conflict is internal and arises out the characters’ character.
Specifically their flaws. If characters were perfect people, they wouldn’t do the things that get them in trouble that causes the conflict that creates the story that keeps readers reading.
He’s arrogant and domineering; she’s defiant and impulsive. He’s reluctant to trust; she’s hiding a big secret. She needs frequent reassurance; he’s not comfortable communicating his feelings. The clash of flaws create a natural story.
But flaws can make characters unlikable to the extent that readers may hope they fail in the pursuit of their goal or worse not care enough to finish the book
Is he arrogant or an asshole? Is she impulsive or too stupid to live? For an authors and readers, the difference can be a very fine line.
In my novella Secret Desires, Morgan and Jack both want more sexually from their relationship than they’re getting, but each fears jeopardizing what they do have by raising the subject. Morgan repeatedly goads Jack in an attempt to get her needs met. Although they both redeemed themselves in the end, some of my readers initially found one or both of them unlikable, Morgan for being spoiled, and Jack for being too passive.
Many a bride has been blinded by the stars in her eyes and ignores serious relationship issues and marries anyway. Yet, in Unexpected Consequences, a few reviewers took Melania to task for her naiveté in marrying a man who would spank her when she misbehaved. I wanted her to be naïve to the point of ignorance because I wanted her to be totally shocked by what happens.
Author Ranae Rose in her novel Taken Hostage creates a “hero” who robs a bank. He’d lost his job, but wasn’t desperate. He robbed the bank for money -- pure and simple.
Ranae has said some of her readers wanted him to have a better reason. I liked Lucy in Gem Sivad’s Quincy’s Woman, even though she was willful and spoiled. But I admit I liked her better in Perfect Strangers when she’d matured.
So how do you create characters who have the flaws necessary to drive the plot forward, yet keep them likable? Do you eject realism into a character’s character or do you give them flaws that aren’t – like the positives phrased as negatives at a job interview: “My weakness is that I pay too much attention to detail” or “I’m too productive and I expect others to be the same.”
Some character flaws would never fly in a romance. (Nor in real life for me!) Could you imagine a hero who cheats on the heroine? Or who had a history of domestic violence in a prior relationship? Or who can’t hold a job? There are clear-cut flaws to avoid, but between black and white is a lot of gray.
What thought process do you use in giving your characters flaws?