Making Flawed Characters More Palatable

Jennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction
for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate about bringing God’s
healing grace and truth to the hopeless. She also writes for,
Internet Café Devotions, and the group blog, Faith-filled Friends. When not
writing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee
dates with her hilariously fun husband. Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud and connect with her on Facebook.
Making Flawed Characters More Palatable
Our characters must be
authentic, but there’s a fine line between real and palatable, especially when dealing
with bitterness and anger. We all act like jerks at one point or another, and
so will our characters. The trick is to balance their more abrasive side with
This was my challenge with
Tammy Kuhn, the heroine in Intertwined.
Abandoned by her husband for another woman, she was angry and left scrambling
to hold on to her career while raising her children by herself. Plus, his
behavior toward her and their children throughout the novel was less than
If in her situation, most
of us would react… strongly. But in my effort to make Tammy real, I also made
her unlikable. Because understanding why
a character does something and admiring
them are entirely different things. Strong characters need flaws and heroic attributes.
Give your flawed characters someone to care for
For Intertwined, this came naturally as my main character was a mother
who loved her children fiercely. The trick was making her bitter less
self-focused and more protective. Readers have more grace for a yelling
Mama-bear than they do for a screaming, embittered woman.
Another example is Katniss
from the Hunger Games. Had Suzanne
Collins created a surface level character, we’d be left with a self-defending
killer. And the series would’ve tanked, because though most of understand why
someone would kill to survive, such behavior isn’t admirable. However, because
she fought to save her sister and the people in her district, Katniss became a
hero. The author gave Katniss hero qualities in the beginning, before we’d
developed distaste for the character.
Show the emotions behind the behavior
This is where an author
needs to dig until they uncover the vulnerable and good, revealing this in a
way readers understand. Show a character’s interpretations, thoughts, and
perceptions, in an authentic way—that’s where the challenge arises. Most of us
react without understanding why. But regardless of how self-aware your
characters are, you know. By placing clues throughout the novel, you can help
your reader decipher motivations as well. 
Use secondary characters to reveal POV’s psyche
 My main character in When Dawn Breaks responded to fear and pain by lashing out
internally. He called certain adults names in his head. The social worker who
ripped him and his sister away from his mother became Ferret Face. The woman in
charge of the group home he was sent to became Skin Flapper. I did this because
teenagers reveal sorrow through anger.
Unfortunately, one of my
early readers didn’t understand and developed negative feelings toward this character.
I knew I needed to find a way to reveal the why, but I had to do it in a way
that was authentic. So I had the character slip with his tongue and call the
social worker, an adult trained to understand childhood trauma and behavior, a
name. When he apologized, she said she understood he was merely hurting and
lashing out at those he believed to be causing his pain. This gave context and
meaning to his harsh behavior.
In both stories, I was
able to use present authentic yet unpleasant behaviors without causing my
reader to turn on me.
What are your thoughts on
this subject? What are some ways you create authentic characters will realistic
flaws and struggles without losing their likeability? Share your thoughts in
the comments below, because we can all learn from each other!    
Abandoned by her
husband for another woman, Tammy Kuhn, an organ procurement coordinator often
finds herself in tense and bitter moments. After an altercation with a doctor,
she is fighting to keep her job and her sanity when one late night she
encounters her old flame Nick. She walks right into his moment of facing an
unthinkable tragedy. Because they both have learned to find eternal purposes in
every event and encounter, it doesn’t take long to discover that their lives
are intertwined but the ICU is no place for romance….or is it? Could this be
where life begins again?