Do you ever find yourself at a loss when it comes to creating believable flawed characters? Here's a tip, what I'll be calling a Writing Hack from this point on. Derivation of Writing Hack? From the blog I wrote on Lifehack.
My advice is to start reading Dear Abby. As Dave Barry always says, "I'm not making this up, folks."
I'm writing about a column that sent me fleeing to the keyboard. It's about some poor soul with an 18 year old daughter who hooked up with a much older ex-con. Of course he got her pregnant and had a baby. Though the parents disapproved on him, they let him move into their home.
Long Story Short
The ex-con got caught with another girl. The daughter ended the relationship. Now he wants her back, and she's going back to him. The kicker is that she wants her parents to let him move back in. Get this. He's still living with the other girl!
Start Your Imaginations
Okay, this is the perfect setup for a plot involving murder, but I'm writing this about characterization so I'll quit thinking of murder plots. Need flawed characters? They abound in this little epistle.
Think about this naive teenager and her low self-esteem or high hormone level or sky-high need to rebel, maybe a combination of all, that sent her into the bed of a guy who's nearly 30. Now she's a mom. Has she grown enough to place the needs of her child above her own? Obviously not. What kind of mother is she going to be? What kind of child will her detriments create?
Think about the dad who's tired of supporting this deadbeat who can't keep it zipped. Is he full of rage? Probably. How does that rage exhibit itself? How does he cope? What kind of resentment does he feel that he'll probably end up supporting his daughter and her child, maybe for the rest of his life?
Think about the misguided mom who needs to learn a little about tough love. True, she probably fears her daughter and grandchild will end up on the street if she doesn't provide a roof over their head, but doesn't her personality smack of an enabler, maybe even a doormat? Why is she that way? Does she feel taken advantage of? Is she bitter that her daughter has now handicapped her future by becoming a mother so early? What dreams did she have for her daughter? Are they dust now?
Think about the ex-con who fathered the child. Does he have other children? Is he a decent guy who made mistakes or is he a truly a criminal in thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes? Does he want to change? Does he have any genuine feelings for the near jail-bait he impregnated or was she just an easy score? How did he let himself get hooked into a relationship? Did he purposely get caught with another woman in order to get out of the relationship?
All of these people have character arcs that resemble upside down bowls. What tremendous growth potential. This is how you build characters. You ask questions like these in order to get at the core of a personality and find out what really makes them tick. You'll learn a lot by analyzing and asking questions about the odd people who find themselves writing letters to advice columnists.
Every character, like every person, acts and reacts in ways specific and logical once you understand them.