Tag Archive: character flaws

Writing Lovable Rogues

Lovable RoguesLovable rouges are not villains, they are fascinating antiheroes. These characters are everywhere, in books, movies and on TV. They are young, old, male and female. And they have wowed us as protagonists, love interests and sidekicks for a long time.

A few notable rouges are:

Tom Sawyer from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean

Fred and George Weasley from Harry Potter

Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars

Zaphod Beeblebrox from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

It’s not surprising they’re popular, because these bad characters are so darn amazing. Traditionally they’re easy on the eyes, combining poise under pressure, with a sense of humor and killer fight moves. They walk the fringes of society with conviction, clear-cut goals and style. Their wild side calls to us. We want to break the rules and run wild with them.

Rogues share five common attributes, by using these traits any writer can turn this naughty character into something very nice.

tnt-the-librarians-john-kim1. They have a keen intellect:

Darn this character is smart; they can think fast on their feet and plan circles around the other characters. They’re not just street smart, they’re often book smart. Rogues have a smattering of knowledge in almost every area and off the charts skills in at least one or two key areas. They are the ultimate chess players and the world is their board. To catch up with a rogue’s mental processing, you need to think twenty steps ahead of everyone else. Crafty schemes with long-term objectives, make these characters ideal for dishing out twisty story surprises.


whitecollarreturns2. Their confidence is sexy:

Rogues make eye contact. While lesser criminals hide, these characters never shy away from the spotlight, as long as it serves their needs. Sharp dressed or in rags, these characters feel at home in their own skin. Even when a rogue is unsure of the right path, they have faith they can and will find a path around any obstacle. They grab hold of life with both hands, and that passion makes other character what to get close. They are shining stars, burning bright in their own universe. Rogues have the wherewithal to be loners, or self-assurance to be leaders of the pack.



Sawyer From Lost3. They know how to manipulate:

Smooth con men with a wicked grin, rogues know how to get what they want. Sometimes they take it; other times they sweet talk their victims with a wink and smile. What rogues might lack in manners, they make up for in charisma. Some of this polish is natural, a byproduct of good looks and a surplus of sex appeal. Some of it is being a skilled observer. Rogues are wise interpreters of human behavior. These characters excel when it comes to adaptability and make some of the best fictional chameleons.


Angelina_Jolie_in_Mr._and_Mrs._Smith_Wallpaper_5_8004. They’re viewed as unethical, yet abide by a personal code:

Rogues know they don’t play by society’s rules and they’re not particularly conflicted about it. They often show up as gentleman thieves, stealing as much of the glory as the gold. Some rogues have a Robin Hood complex, they fight to balance the odds. While others are just so good at being bad they see their skills as a gift. Rogues find the beauty in being a great assassin, a liar or a forger; it’s an art form. They’re even able to walk the moral high ground in their own minds. If society didn’t want them to be the bad guys, they shouldn’t make it so darn easy to cheat.


To_Catch_a_Thief_19555. They hide a difficult past:

A hint of mystery in any character is enticing, but in a rogue it’s necessary. They keep everyone in the story off balance. Even when they offer us a suggestion of their hidden depths, they wiggle out of it. There is always a suspicion of a backstory worthy of a few tears, but getting a rogue character to come clean is going to take some leverage. Rogues know information is power, they don’t grant just anyone a free pass into their personal pain. What (or who) they care about is a closely guarded secret, for telling anyone that bit of information could be orchestrating their own downfall. Most rogues have been on the outside looking in for a long time. Trust is not given lightly, and even if they grant it, they will remain ever vigilant for signs of treachery. This need for secrecy turns up the story drama, and makes for spectacular misunderstandings and explosive betrayals.


fireflyLovable rogues don’t enjoy hurting innocent people. They have a line they do not want to cross, but if someone pushes them too far, they can release the most ruthless part of their character.

Then people get hurt.


the-mummy-movie-poster-1999-1020199235Rogues love to push the envelope and test themselves. It’s common for them to get swept up into monumental troubles. It’s all part of what makes them exciting characters.

Most important of all, we must root for the rogue to win. If we can, then it’s a flawed character we can learn to love.



I would like to hear what you think of rogues. Love them, or hate them?

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Writing Frenemies: Love, Hate, & In-Between

CC 2.0 Mauricio Delgado

CC 2.0 Mauricio Delgado

Frenemies are the staple for conflict-packed stories. It’s a relationship dynamic that runs the gambit of emotions. It’s the subtle barbs of a disgruntled coworker. It’s the lingering sad but quietly malevolent vibe of a jilted ex-lover. And it’s the deliberate backstabbing of a fair-weather friend.

Frenemies of every kind are particularly popular in teen character creation, but they’re nothing new to writers. Jane Austen played off the dynamic notion of an enemy masquerading as a friend in several of her novels. Just think of the complicated relationship between Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.

How do people with common interests, who run in the same work and/or social circles, manage to cross the line?

Well, it usually begins with some level of self-interest. The corresponding behaviors range from the annoying to the pathological. This type of character plays a major roll in the project I’m working on this fall. My lead character, Jade, is a frienemie to her ex-boyfriend’s new girl with disastrous results for everyone.

Here are some of the character categories where you often find a frenemy lurking:

Me, Myself and I Friend:
This frenemy just has no real interest in others. Their world view has room for one star in the sky and they are it! It’s not so much that they want to hurt others, it’s just that others aren’t as smart, as dedicated, as driven, or as worthy of success as they are. They are single-minded and hard working; they win small and large contests with all the commitment of a world class athlete.

Personal Motto: Good things come to those who hunt them down and kill them with a big stick.

The Roller Coaster of Doom Friend:
They’re up, they’re down, and they’re lost. They’re looking for others to pity them, clutch their hands in support, and show them the way. Of course, once directed to a suitable path, they will still go the other way and cause chaos. This frenemy’s prickly and unpredictable nature means they require constant attention.

Personal Motto: What have you done for me lately?

Green Meanie Friend:
Jealousy’s glow is an ugly shade on anyone, but this frenemy is sporting some shamrock colored karma that demands some redecorating. At the core of envy is low self-esteem and a dose of greed. They want the other person’s success so badly they can taste it. And they resent and denigrate their friend’s accolades with growing malcontent. The Green Meanie doesn’t understand why success proves so elusive, unless their friends are sabotaging them. Paranoia and conspiracy theories are the Green Meanie’s true BFFs.

Personal Motto: Blowing out another person’s candle will make mine brighter.

Humans Are Stepping Stones Friend:
The path to success is paved with the discarded hulls of others. These frenemies are the first to wrangle an invitation to the party and the last to help with the clean up. They are often charming, attractive and know how to work any social situations like a public relations pro. They gravitate toward money and power, always realigning themselves with new friends for maximum gain.

Personal Motto: Life is a journey, and I arrive first and in style.

Most Valuable Player Friend:
Walking in the spotlight feels good, and it’s okay if a little light bleeds ever so gently onto others and long as the MVP hogs the focal point. MVP don’t mind if friends own a much smaller spotlight or if they’re successful in another area of the shared social web. But friends should never go head -to-head with the MVP on home turf, it will not end well.

Personal Motto: I play to annihilate, because he/she who dies with the most trophies, press clippings, and awards wins.

Love Lunatic Friend:
Stupid in the name of love, friends fall by the wayside when the object of this frenemy’s affections beckons. Likewise, their love is always the one true affection, whereas their friends get mocked for their silly crushes. No one can equal the scope of the Love Lunatic’s passion, save Romeo and Juliet of course. That pair is ideal in all things. This frenemy will only return to the fold once love has gone awry. In lost love’s melancholy stage, they will demand everyone’s full attention, until the next true love comes along.

Personal Motto: Love triumphs all, until it doesn’t!

The Grand Schemer Friend:
This frenemy knows just what they’re doing. They’ve learned the art of how befriend and betray at Machiavelli’s knee. They get close fast and study their prey from every angle. When they strike, it is without warning and for maximum suffering. If they are really good at being bad, they might even convince the injured party to apologize.

Personal Motto: Sometimes you need to lose a battle to win the war.

Young adult fiction is positively bursting with frenemies. Using many means (gossip, slander, blackmail), these characters advance their campaigns of self-promotion at any cost. Throwing in a frenemy character never fails to create some extra tension in a group.

Have you ever written a frenemy relationship? If so please share your experience.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/writing-frenemies-love-hate-and-in-between/

The Back-up Antagonist

We recently had a guest join us to talk about creating characters with good character. If you haven’t read that post, I strongly suggest you do, since creating likable characters is always a hot topic with writers. However, it turns out I’m a contrarian. I’m crazy about unlikable characters that run from those skirting the edges of being jerks, to the ones that cross the line into the realm of the truly hated! I’m also one of those writers who’s nuts about secondary characters in general, the ones that were never meant for story center stage, but often find a way to steal a chunk of the spotlight anyway.  So put these two traits together and give me an unlikable secondary character and I’m in heaven.

I’ve been thinking about this composite character for over a year now, ever since I started writing a book featuring a bunch of teen criminals, and it turns out that when secondary characters are pompous, shady and egotistical, they serve a number of important story functions. These characters fall into some predictable patterns, too many to count, but here are four of my personal favorites.

Pirates and Mercenaries: When characters don’t care about being liked, they can say and do all the things the hero can’t. Since they tend to look out for number one, they don’t share the value of sugar-coating the truth for the sake of others. This character never lets the reader forget the stakes. They become the voice of the devil’s advocate. They up the tension and sometimes offer comic relief with the forces of their self-serving agenda and natural pessimism. Jayne from Firefly is the perfect example of this character, being unabashedly rude and the first one to speak up when a plan sounds stupid, or just lacking in financial gain.Firefly Jayne

Tough Love Mentors: Sure, everyone thinks they want a mentor who is kind, supportive and praising, but not all mentors are cut out to be that way. Mentors are who they are often because of wisdom gained through a lifetime of hard work and often harder knocks, and that can change a person. Tough love mentors are bitter, and callous, unwilling to trust. They hide behind a wall of ice, or in some cases, alcohol. Hamish from The Hunger Games is the perfect example. After watching countless tributes under his sponsorship die, he has given up caring about himself or others. That is until he finally believes he might have a shot at bringing a tribute home alive.

Hunger Games photo

The Absentee Antagonist’s Understudies: It’s easy to forget that in the Harry Potter series many of the unlikable characters are story stand-ins for the missing in action Lord V. The Dursleys, Crabbe, Fudge, Umbridge, even little Mrs. Norris are only there to provide obstacles, and in the end most of them never cause Harry any lasting harm. I like Argus Filch, he is a character who just oozes animosity and frankly looks like he smells bad, but underneath it all he is just venerable and scared of his own secrets getting out.Harry Potter

Kindness Killers: From high atop their sturdy soapbox, and speaking in a voice too high for mere mortals to hear, this character rains down upon a story with moral fortitude and impressive list of righteous conventions. This character strives to create change for what they think are all the right reasons, but they’ve gone terribly wrong. I think my favorite literary example is Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, but who can forget Marianne Bryant in Easy A. She is just the right nasty blend of know-it-all faith and insufficient grace. Easy A crop

I love a large cast in stories. Give me groups of heroes or packs of story-helping characters, and if a few of them are quirky, creepy, and downright morally busted, all the better! If you don’t already have one of these powerhouse characters in your story, you might be missing out on something big. If you have a favorite unlikable character, please share them in the comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/writing-the-back-up-antagonist/

Do Your Characters have Character?

ShawnGriffithToday we bring you a guest post from one of our newer blogging friends, Shawn Griffith. Shawn runs a blog called Down Home Thoughts, and his site is packed with old-fashioned wit and wisdom. He’s on WriteOnSisters to talk about character, a topic near and dear to his heart. In fact he’s conducting a survey on character over at his blog. Make sure you head over there next and lend him your own down home thoughts on what character means to you. 

When outlining your main characters, you think about their purpose in the story, you contemplate various names, physical traits, habits, etc., but do you think about their character? By character, I mean those traits that make up how an individual, in this case, your character, reacts to the ups and downs that life (or an author) throws at them. Traits like the ones described in the Knight’s Chivalric Code; honesty, self-discipline, courage, justice, mercy, generosity, faith, nobility, and hope are great examples. Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics is also an example of a fictional code. The First Law states that “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.” What kind of character do your characters have?


Do Your Characters Have Character?

I believe that having a code of conduct for your characters helps make the decisions about how they respond in difficult situations a bit easier. It’s a good idea to keep your traits general at first. You can expand on the traits as needed. Since character is not easy to define due to its complexity, you should focus on no more than three or four attributes per group of beings. We’ve all heard the saying that actions speak louder than words. A character’s true personality or character will show in their actions. This is why knowing your character’s character is important. If you struggle with defining a set of social norms, the 5 questions below can help you develop your own social code for particular group.

5 Questions To Develop a Social Code
1. Is there a driving central theme or passion for this group? Klingon’s love battle and value honor above all else.
2. Are there specific traits you need this group to have (or lack) for your story to work? Orcs in Lord of the Ring are utterly bloodthirsty and destructive.
3. Are there traits you want to emphasize/de-emphasize? You have a culture that respects property very highly and your main character is kleptomaniac.
4. Do you need a society’s character to change in the course of the story? The peace loving Ewoks in Star Wars are forced to fight for their home with the rebels.
5. Does your society have a central character flaw or strength? Asimov’s Foundation has the planet Trantor where conformity, obedience and acceptance are expected.

Once the societal norm is established, look at the main characters and decide what are their strengths and weaknesses according to this norm. Use these questions as a starting point for laying a framework for your character’s character.

5 Questions for Character
1. What drives or compels them to do what they do?
2. What are their character strengths?
3. What are their weaknesses?
4. What is important to them?
5. What are they willing to die for?

Hopefully these questions have made you think about character in a new light and perhaps even the effect of that character’s struggle on the character of your reader. I would love hear your thoughts on this. Leave a comment so we can discuss it.

Shawn Griffith currently has two writing projects underway. One is a non-fiction work about the importance of understanding, identifying, and promoting good character development in ourselves and those we influence. The other is a work of science fiction and is in the formative stages. You can find out more about Shawn by visiting his blog Down Home Thoughts. It is a collection of wisdom, character and common sense thoughts passed along from his parents, grandparents and others, with a dash of stories, photos, book reviews and other writings.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/do-your-characters-have-character/

I is for Internal Conflict

BLAST_IA couple letters ago, I talked about External Conflict – all those forces in the universe that are bumping up against the protagonist. Now we’ll discuss Internal Conflict – the sometimes black hole of doubt within the hero. Like External Conflict, Internal Conflict must get in the way of the hero achieving his goal. Most importantly, Internal Conflict forces the hero to make hard choices.

3 Tips for Writing Internal Conflict

  • Find your hero’s flaw. Inner conflict often arises from a character flaw. This is common in superhero stories where the hero has a powerful ability he can’t always control. So he’s always conflicted about using this power to achieve his goal, weighing how much it can help versus how much it can hurt. 

  • Use your hero’s fear. Fears make great internal conflicts, and can be anything from a fear of heights to a fear of failure, as long as this fear makes it difficult for the hero to achieve his goal.

  • Challenge your hero’s morality. Characters with beliefs that counteract their goals are always interesting to read! War stories and crime dramas often feature heroes that are morally at odds with their situation.

2 Examples

FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe features a character brimming with internal conflict. First of all, she’s a recovering drug addict, and this daily struggle affects every aspect of the story. Second, her and her dead best friend share a secret that causes her a lot of emotional pain. Third, her attraction to her dead friend’s brother gives her all kinds of conflicting feelings. A character so full of flaws, fears and confused morality makes for a great read!

HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME by Kirsten Miller has a fascinating protagonist fighting to maintain his moral standards at a school for psychopaths. Now that’s some powerful inner and outer conflict!

1 Link for more help

Since Inner Conflict is the basis of a great character arc, here’s a post on How To Create A Character Arc using what we talked about in this post: flaws, secrets, fears and morals.

And in case you’re just dropping in now, here’s our April A to Z list thus far:

A is for Antagonist

B is for Backstory

C is for Character Change

D is for Dialogue

E is for External Conflict

F is for False Stakes

G is for Genre

H is for Hero

Coming up:

J is for Juxtaposition

K is for Kittens!

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/i-is-for-internal-conflict/

How to Create a Character Arc from Plot

There are lots of things that make a story good. In fact, I’m constantly overwhelmed trying to keep track of them all. But what elevates most stories above the rest is a satisfying character arc. What is this? Well, at the most basic level it is a story where the character changes. If your character doesn’t change, you don’t have an arc. And you must have an arc! Not sure you buy that? Read this post where I explain how stories that lack character change fall flat because they don’t connect with readers.

Since character arc is so important, some might think that every writer would start a story with the hero’s change in mind. That would be smart. I wish I wrote that way. Alas, my ideas are born out of situation, not character. I always think of the plot first. This means I have to create a protagonist for the plot to change.

"So you've put me in this plot, now what?"

“So you’ve put me in this plot, now what?”

Let me reiterate: the plot changes the hero. The character arc is not some side street that runs parallel to the main road and never intersects. The character arc travels right on the main plot! The arc happens because of the plot, not despite it.

You can see how if a writer comes up with the character arc first they can create a plot that will push the hero’s buttons and poke at his flaws and force him to change. And, at least to me, that seems easier than moulding a character to a pre-existing plot idea. Maybe I’m wrong. Writers who write this way (character first), please chime in in the Comments! Since I write plot first, I’ve come up with some things to consider when creating that crucial character arc from plot…

  1. Skills. What skills are needed to resolve this plot? At the beginning, the hero doesn’t have these skills, or has the skills but hasn’t mastered them, and must develop them over the course of the story. Often skills arise from overcoming flaws.

  2. Flaws. What flaw does your hero need to complicate this plot? For instance, if your story is about an orphaned rich kid who spent all his inheritance and now has to get a job and a roommate, give him the flaw of being uncompromising. This flaw will make getting a job and roommate more difficult, and of course, in order to succeed by the end, he will have to change and learn to compromise (a skill he didn’t have at the beginning). Other flaws that would work for this plot: classism, laziness, naiveté.

  3. Fears. Why does this plot scare your hero? Fear is part of all stories, not just thrillers and horrors. In a romantic comedy, the fear is rejection. The presence of fear means there are stakes for the hero, and if there are stakes the hero will care enough to change, hence the character arc. In the bankrupt orphan story, his fear could be losing the family mansion, the only connection he has to his deceased parents. Without fear, the character won’t give a damn about changing and have no arc.

  4. Secrets. How does this plot threaten to expose your hero? Protecting secrets is a great way to add internal conflict and strengthen the character arc. Another approach is have the plot reveal information the hero didn’t even know! Either way, the plot should rattle all the skeletons in your hero’s closet.

  5. Morals. What morals does this plot test? Plots that upend the hero’s belief system make for strong character arcs. Perhaps the bankrupt orphan thinks he’s better than the working class. The plot of getting a job will certainly challenge that belief!

So those are a few things I ask myself whenever I come up with a story. Well, now I do. I floundered for much to long trying to create great character arcs, so I thought it was high time I figured out a better way! And I think this is it. Though if you have more suggestions, please share!


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/how-to-create-a-character-arc-from-plot/