We Are Flawed Characters

10 Feb 2012

Lionel Shriver for… wait, what? for the Financial Times?1:

Sometimes you simply cannot bear the company of an author’s characters, who inspire the same claustrophobic desperation to flee as overbearing dinner guests, and in that case you should read a different book.

Our scars are our stories worth telling. This is as true of characters as it is living, breathing people. We are scared and we are flawed and we are broken. Anyone seeking perfection from their storytellers will be disappointed, because we are as imperfect as our readers and it is not possible for our subjects to be anything but a reflection of those blemishes.

If you find yourself falling in love with Ondaatje’s Hana or Franzen’s Berglunds, it is not because they are perfect, but because you see yourself in them. Their weaknesses are our weaknesses and that is how they manage to find a place in our hearts. If they do not, if we find ourselves unable to bear the company of these characters, we move on from them. We close that book and move on.

  1. This seems wrong. Financial Times running an article on the nature of developing characters in writing? Not that I should complain as I will take my writing advice where I can get it, but I am also a big believer in the importance the names that we choose to use. Case in point: if I ever let Dave Morris or Wes Lord start posting on here, you will know that I have jumped the shark on StevenRayOrr.com.