Perfectly Imperfect in Every Way

Early in December, I spent four days in Maine on what I like to call a “personal writing retreat.” This involves me-and-only-me spending several days and nights in a retreat center, vacation condo, or cottage. When my calendar (and noisy mind) is mostly free from distractions, I am better able to give myself over to whatever story is birthing itself in me. (I shop around for bargains and always go to Maine during off-season for less expensive rates).

I spent many happy hours on my writing retreat last month at my laptop,  overlooking the ocean from two wide sunny windows. Ahhh…. heaven.  I spent those hours “interviewing” the five main characters in my upcoming novel which is tentatively called Feathers in the Sand.  That’s how I get to know my characters! It’s a fun process—I ask them questions and they answer me. I learn a lot about them as people, but I also get ideas about what may or may not happen as the story unfolds.

When I got home from my retreat, I read all those pages of interviews over and was thoroughly pleased with myself! Great progress… or so I thought.

I have been reading Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, and at the beginning, she writes a lot about creating flawed characters. Right? I mean, who wants to read about perfect people who are always good and nice and happy with life in general? Not me! But as I was reading this chapter about creating flawed yet relatable characters, I realized that when I was interviewing my characters, they were only showing me their good side!  Uh-oh. So I re-read them all over again, and sure enough, there were hardly any flaws to speak of. Sigh.

I found myself resisting the perfectly logical idea of giving my characters flaws, and I noticed my resistance and let myself get curious about it. After pondering all of this for a week or so, light finally dawned and I had a good laugh at myself.  It seems that I don’t want to look at my characters’ flaws in the same way that I don’t like to look at my own flaws!  I wanted my characters to be perfectly perfect, just like I want myself to be perfect, in spite of knowing, deep down, that simply being human makes me a flawed being.

All of this has inspired me to think about how to make Tess, Eva, Aunt Kit, Jasper, and Micah perfectly imperfect. Or is it imperfectly perfect? I don’t know. I just know that this whole process is making me a better writer, and a better person. I am noticing and accepting the stuff about me that is probably irritating to others, and I am noticing more of others’ faults as well, which is helping me to see these characters in a new and clearer light.

Next week I will be “interviewing” them again, and this time I’m going to ask different questions to draw out what’s inside each of them that might be getting in the way of their best selves and relationships.

If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear how you create your own perfectly flawed characters. If not, what are some flaws that your favorite novel’s characters have?




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