Friday, 31 March 2017

Flawed characters - and why I love them.

Ever since I wrote my first novel – and even before that, when I was writing short stories for women’s magazines – I’ve loved to make my readers laugh and cry, often at the same time. My early novels were romantic comedies, so you might think that the laughter would be understandable but why would I want my readers to cry? Well, I couldn’t seem to help myself.

Funny moments
And sad ones!
Let’s face it, life is never all fun and laughter, neither is it ever all sad. For a story, and more importantly the characters, to feel real, and for the reader to be really engaged in what’s happening, I instinctively felt the need to have moments of pathos in the rom coms. And in the novels I’m writing now, which are marketed to be light, cosy stories, there are inevitably some episodes to make my readers chuckle, moments to give them that warm and fuzzy feeling, but I still can’t resist including some moments of sadness Without these emotional ups and downs, I’m sure you’ll agree, a story would be very dull and flat.

Even the animals in my stories have to be sad sometimes!

In the same way, to my mind a character who is all good or all bad is not only frankly unbelievable, but can also be dreary and boring. I’ve occasionally been criticised for creating a plot line where my heroine behaves in a way that some readers might find reprehensible. Not all the way through the story, of course! – or it would be difficult to root for her as a heroine. But I can’t bear to write – or read – about people who seem to be faultless and perfect, whether they’re secondary characters or the main protagonists, heroes or heroines. It’s just not realistic. 

We're all capable of being a bit naughty sometimes!

I’ve lived for a long time, and so far I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have any faults, or who doesn’t occasionally behave in a way that others find unacceptable – but that doesn’t mean they’re horrible people, or that I don’t like them. After all, in real life I don’t stop liking my own friends if sometimes I think they’re being a bit daft, or doing something I might not do myself. And I’d hope they feel the same way about me!

So I won’t apologise for the fact that my basically nice, ordinary, heroines, have flaws just like the rest of us. They have problems in their lives, as we all do – otherwise there would be no story. They’re dealing with pain, loss, trauma, loneliness, fear, unhappiness of some kind – otherwise there would be no happy ending to hope for. So if they never stepped out of line – got drunk, swore at somebody, kissed somebody they shouldn’t, lost their temper, acted childishly or selfishly or stupidly – they’d be ridiculously unrealistic and personally I wouldn’t be able to believe in them or even like them very much!
Nobody likes a goody-goody!

Just as, if I’m reading crime stories, I like a villain to occasionally betray an unexpected human side – perhaps showing tenderness to their mum, or a puppy, despite being a killer – so I like my heroines to show that they have their faults, make mistakes, but can still come good at the end. Laughter and tears, people being kind and unkind, good and bad, happy and unhappy – we want to feel something when we read a story, and for that to happen, it has to be believable.

So my latest stories might be light, they might be easy reading, but I certainly hope nobody finds them dull or unrealistic. I’m always pleased when people say they laughed out loud at a funny part or cried at a sad part. But the readers’ comments that please me most, are those that say they really sympathised with the heroine and could understand how she felt. Yes, even if during parts of the story she wasn’t very sensible !

The paperback edition of THE VETS AT HOPE GREEN will be published by Ebury on 1 June 2017.
 Meanwhile it's being serialised in four digital parts on Amazon: Parts 1 to 3 available now, Part 4 available on 16 April.


  1. I'm with you, Sheila. Not only would perfect heroes and heroines make a story unbelievable and flat, where would be the the sense of reward and transformation? And, as you said, neither should the ostensible villains be 'all bad'. The story comes over as a cartoon. But I admit, I read (and write), for identification not for escapism. gx

  2. Exactly, Gilli - thanks for your comment. I've been reading WW2 stories recently - fabulous brave, heroic characters but I'm always glad to see when they occasionally act with human frailty too. x