Monday Musings: The Allure of the Deeply Flawed Character

As a writer I am continually amazed by the reactions readers have to certain characters. I can never quite predict which character my readers will take a fancy to and am often delighted, although surprised, at their choices. I like this because it is easier to write about characters filled with flaws than the unnaturally good ones. I suppose there is something in us that relates to these people and their search for redemption.

When I created Vivienne Lang in the second crazy old lady book I wasn’t sure if people would like her or not. I wasn’t sure if I liked her. She was raised by her grandparents who were wonderful but then at the age of twelve her mother forced her to move to California and used her as bait to attract lovers for herself. Out of both grief and desperation, Viv turned into a careless, promiscuous young woman. She also turned to martial arts as a defense against being used against her will. Eventually, this gave her the skills to be a force to be reckoned with but a force that was fragile and broken inside.

As I wrote about her I fell more and more under her spell and by the time I wrote the fourth book, The Crazy Old Lady’s Secret, in which she is now married and a mother, I wanted nothing but good things for her. I’m not quite sure how that happened.

A few weeks ago I wrote about dangerous characters on my blog and I mentioned my fascination with Sayid Jarrah, the Iraqi soldier and former torturer, on the old television show, Lost. Since then I’ve read a couple articles in which his character was discussed and one of the writers for the show said they originally had intended him to be an irredeemable character that the audience would love to hate, but that isn’t what happened. The audience loved him — they saw him as a romantic, tragic, and even heroic character. The writers had to do a lot of rewriting and by the time the last season came around, even though he had continued to be a relentless killing machine, he died the most heroic death they could give him. I got a lot of comments about that blog post and most of them said that they loved him.

Something similar happened with my first novel, The Old Mermaid’s Tale. The main character, Clair, has romances with two men in the book — Pio, a delicious, sexy, Italian fisherman, and Baptiste, a man 20 years her senior who ran away from home at 16 to go to sea and, following an accident in which he lost his leg, became a vagabond and a drunk until he straightened himself out — sort of. I have always been both pleased and a little bit astonished at how many women tell me they love Baptiste. How sexy and desirable they find him. Of course, to me both Baptiste and Pio were very alluring but I suspect Baptiste’s many flaws make him somehow more delicious.

I think about these things and I wonder what we see in these characters. Do we romanticize their broken places? Do we identify with them? Do we think we could redeem them? I’ve mentioned before how I am dumbfounded by the women who love Christian Grey in the 50 Shades books. To me he is a twisted, manipulative stalker but a lot of women — millions of them — find him delicious.

As a writer I doubt I’ll ever understand this but I continue to pursue my fascination with characters who are both a mess and mesmerizing. I seek them out, I want to read about them and I want to create them. This is all very mysterious — a mystery that borders on obsession and I love it.

Originally published at on August 17, 2015.

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