Friday, 16 March 2012

Perfectly Imperfect

When it comes to creating characters,
EDGE author Sara Grant prefers imperfection

I’m not interested in perfect. It’s something I’ll never be. And anyway...perfect is boring.

I want to write about characters who are perfectly imperfect. I don’t like villains who are purely evil nor do I like flawless heroes.

I tried to craft every character in Dark Parties with a light and dark side. My main character Neva accidently kisses her best friend’s boyfriend at a party in the pitch black and then proceeds to fall in love with him. (A definite no-no in the BFF handbook.) Neva’s father is the Minister of Ancient History and part of the establishment that keeps the country in Dark Parties locked away  under an electrified dome. The country is decaying and the citizens are dying but Neva’s father believes that he is doing what is necessary to protect his country and its heritage.

If this is all you ever know about Neva and her father then I can understand why you might not like them. But if you read on, you’ll find characters struggling with guilt and misinformation. By the end of the book, I hope you’ll be cheering for both characters.

I like to write in the first person so that my narrator’s (and readers’) perception of another character can evolve. It’s happened to us all. The first impression of someone can be absolutely wrong. I have dear friends who I didn’t click with immediately and made fast friends only to discover that our connection wasn’t sustainable.

A FBI profiler came to speak to a college class I was taking titled Murder in America. He said that everyone has three lives – their public, their private and their secret lives. Your public life is what everyone knows about you. Your private life is what only the people closest to you know. And your secret life is what only you know about yourself. The profiler said that he must uncover the three lives of a victim to solve the crime. I think writers should create these layers for each of their characters.

Similarly in his book The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, Noah Lukeman encourages writers to give each character inner and outer lives with both positive and negative traits.

I heard a literary agent joke that to make your villain more believable all you need to do is give him/her a pet. An axe murder who loves his pet guinea pig can’t be all bad, right? Give your villain a heart – or at least make them care about someone or something passionately. Know what has driven him/her to do bad things. Alternatively give your hero a dirty little secret or a dark side.

If you get the chance to read Dark Parties, I hope you are constantly surprised by its cast of characters. I tried to show the readers my characters layer by good, bad and twisted layer.

We all have secrets. We all behave badly. We have people who love us and people who, well, don’t. We all have bad habits and make mistakes. It makes us human and interesting. Perfection is over rated and not really attainable. I prefer a perfectly imperfect character, friend and reflection in the mirror.  

Sara Grant’s debut novel DARK PARTIES -- a dystopian thriller for young adults – is published on the Orion’s Indigo imprint. Find out more about Sara and her book at

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  1. Brilliant post Sara. I love the FBI chappie's comment - he's absolutely right of course and good rule of thumb for writers in layering their characters. All of us are complex people - it is the multi-layering of your characters which will make them leap off the page as real. And in Dark Parties you have really achieved that so well.

  2. I love this post. It made me think a lot and, like Miriam, I love the FBI man's comment. When I am creating my characters I always ask them the question 'what don't you want other people to know about you?' I think you are right the characters need to be imperfect, that way you lift them off the page. Many thanks for this post

  3. Reminds me of a Voltaire quote, "perfection is the enemy of good". Great post, Sara.