Sunday, March 20, 2011

Quilting With Character Flaws

You know you’ve sunk to a new low when you think quilting is easier than writing. I can tell you this: it certainly isn’t cheaper. Writing costs one little notebook and a Bic blue ink pen. You’re out less than a dollar if you buy the notebook and pen in August, but fabric costs more. Plus there’s scissors, rotary cutters, a mat, an iron, needles, thread, and pins.


But in some capacities it is easier. I’m sewing little straight strips together, ironing the flat down, the sewing a new piece to that, and ironing. Eventually I have a little square of pieces all sewn together. Then you sew the squares together, smooth out the edges, and finish it.


It’s not that different from writing. Writing is very basic, like sewing. You put the pen to the paper and move—the words usually come to the pages like straight stitches. Some stitches are better than others. Sometimes the tension is wonky and you think, “I’ll have to fix that later.” Sometimes you have to fix it then. Sometimes you get the pieces of a square together and go, “God, that’s stupid looking. This whole thing is ridiculous, and I’ve invested so much into it. What the hell was I thinking? I know what I was thinking—I was thinking this was easier than writing and I was dead wrong, that’s what.”


But you press on because you’ve invested way too much money to toss it all into the closet now. Worse, your friends know and occasionally they even ask about it. Your boyfriend has banned you from the fabric store until you finish the damned thing, and you love the fabric store. Plus you still love it, even if you suck, because you’re constantly buying quilting magazines and dreaming about new projects. Projects that will turn out better than this one. Projects that will make your boyfriend acknowledge this was not a grand waste of time. Projects that will prove you are a quilter. Seriously, quilting is so much like writing, I might as well be writing.


First quilts are a lot like first books, manuscripts. They’re not anything you’d ever share with the public because they’re usually not very good. They’re just good practice of getting something approximating a quilt from start to finish. Then you get to look at the whole and see where your strengths lie—and what you need to work on. But even if they’re ugly, you get to be proud you finished something so few ever do or would be stupid enough to attempt.


One of the quilting articles I saw recently—which proves to me that this quilt should never see the light of day once finished—says that new quilters never have enough dark colors in their stash of fabric. Lights and mediums, yes, but never darks. New quilters are afraid of using the dark, of making the quilt unattractive or not quite right. But it’s when you have a quilt of nothing but lights and mediums that you realize something is not quite right. You end up with a quilt that’s rather dull.


And I looked at the pieces for my quilt and almost all of them were whites or pinks or reds. I considered my reds “dark” but they were more medium, I realized. I didn’t have any fabrics with enough dark colors to truly contrast. I went and located a piece of black fabric that contrasted with the ones I have, but I doubt it will be enough. I shall have to see. I hope it’ll still work out. Maybe.


But it’s funny. Here I’ve taken up a new hobby for the moment, hoping for something “easier” and I’m inserting the same flaws in the new project as I did with my old. My writing was getting too hard because I’m not keen on the dark. I love reading it, obviously, but giving my characters a true dark side or real character flaws to overcome and conflict up my story, that’s almost impossible for me. You can’t be a real writer if you’re not willing to torture your characters. Sometimes I think it’s because I like my characters too much, but part of me worries if I darken them up, they won’t come out the other side the same. Darkness changes all of us, but I have trouble believing that it changes us for the better. What if I give my characters a conflict they can’t handle and they aren’t right for each other? What will I do then? So I give them lights and mediums—and then I wonder why my story isn’t that interesting.


I don’t trust myself or my characters enough to even try. I have trust issues.


You know what happens when you only have lights and mediums in a romance? You have movies like Hitch. Jennifer Crusie summed up the problem perfectly.


Well, I’ve made the first step in admitting the problem. I can’t embrace the flaws of my characters—hell, I can’t even embrace my own flaws—and it’s stagnating my writing and draining my finances as I take up new, expensive, and equally poorly executed hobbies.


How do you come up with character flaws for your characters? Do they arrive with their flaws and are you able to figure them out right away, or are your characters good at keeping them secret? Do you ever worry that the flaws of your characters will make them unlovable to your readers and their true love? Do you have any flaws that you try to hide? And have you ever noticed that no matter what it is you’re doing, your personality (and flaws) color the outcome? I want to talk about flaw today. In craft books, some of the most intriguing suggestions have to do with creating a flaw in a character that’s their strength, but also their Achilles’ heel. What are some of your favorite strength-flaws?


2nd Chance said...

I had to really think about this. How do I arrive at the flawed part of my characters? Hmmmm! Well, I think it helps that so many of my heroes are rogue types to begin with. I make them honorable rogues for the most part, but rogues do have certain flaws when it comes to the idea of perfection...

...though they are generally perfect at being rogues. which wouldn't be a flaw if you were a rogue... head hurts.

Ahhhhhh....well, anyway. I think I really have to say I devise a conflict first, then figure out what flaws would lead to making that a real conflict and not just some half-assed stab at a conflict.

The ability to lie convincingly isn't a flaw for a rogue. It's an asset. But that ability could lead to wondrous conflict with the heroine, who sees it as a flaw when it comes to dealing with her and trusting him. So, enter some great conflict and the fact that she isn't sure if he's lying because in the case of the conflict lying would be an asset to a rogue and flaw to a heroine...

...and my head hurts again.

But I actually think I explained if fairly well! ;-)

My mom makes quilts and it is a lot of work! When you finish this time consuming quilt, we deserves pictures, btw.

Marnee said...

Flawed parts of my characters. Well, this time it wasn't as hard because I spent over a year thinking about this story. I knew what my heroine's flaws were, but my hero was a little harder. He only came to me in the fall.

I read Jenny Cruisie's article about Hitch and it's brilliant. I think diametrically opposed characters work the best. Sometimes I wonder if that's what I'm doing. I hope so.

I saw the pic of your quilt on FB, Cap'n. It's pretty. :)

Donna said...

Interesting post, Hellion. I also read the post about Hitch, and I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone that I have a different point of view on that. LOL

First off, I totally understand, and sympathize with, you not wanting to torture your characters. I am the same way, which is why I vehemently disagree with this statement:

You can’t be a real writer if you’re not willing to torture your characters.

A real writer WRITES. I don't think it's necessary to torture your characters -- but in order for them to be part of an interesting story, they do require "room for growth".

Maybe you can demonstrate that via a flaw, or maybe it's showing how the character cuts themselves off from getting involved with someone else, in order to protect their heart. That's the choice YOU get to make as the creator of your particular stories.

As for Hitch, I love that movie, and it's one I actually bought so I can rewatch it. One of the reasons I like it so much is because of the healthy, adult way the two main characters interact with each other. They don't have all the angst you see with most movie couples, and the woman doesn't flounce around when things fall apart. That is unusual in these types of movies, and it's one reason I really enjoy it.

The secondary romance is fun, but I think the whole unlikely pairing is used for comic effect. If it appears that they have more room for character growth, it's because they are so far apart at the beginning, whereas Hitch and his love interest are already closer to where they want to end up.

Anyway, this is getting too long. I've been where you are, and I truly sympathize. I've tried lots of other creative activities to distract myself from the desire to write, and they can be pleasant outlets, but they don't have the same satisfaction (or craziness) of writing.

Write your story the best you can. If it isn't perfect, rip the seams out and re-do it. Add some dark, or take it back out. YOU decide whether it's right or wrong. Write another story if this one doesn't work out. Working on the new story may help you figure out how to fix the other one.

Here endeth the lesson. LOL

Bosun said...

I think I see what you mean about the dark in your quilt. And I'm thinking revising a quilt would be way harder than revising an MS. What if you made the backdrop/outside frame dark?

I totally agree about the first MS. I'm tempted to slide this puppy under the bed and just move on. I love the book, but it's the first. It's lacking in so many areas. Areas I'm relieved to see at the start of this second one.

The flaws are easier after the first perfect people are down on paper. The new one has a heroine who hasn't made a decision or thought for herself in more years than she can remember. The hero is bitter, negative, and cynical. But the heroine is also charming and wins people over with little effort, and the hero is generous to a fault, so it all works out. :)

Hellion said...

Chance, I'm not sure what you just said, except that lying is only a flaw in the eye of the beholder. *LOL* Which is true. The one lying never sees it as a problem unless he gets caught. :)

But I'm glad I could torture you a bit this morning.

Hellion said...

Thank you, Marn. I too usually can realize the flaw of one character over another. I wonder if the characters we figure out first are the characters that the story belongs to more? Or maybe it's the character who's more open. *LOL*

I loved Jen's article too. Not that I think you necessarily need opposites to make a story work, but they do make for an easy emotional arc. A sort of quick cheat.

Hellion said...

Bosun, the pattern itself doesn't really have a "frame" on it, but it is something to consider since I don't have to follow the pattern. Although I did look at the instructions for the patterns again--and nowhere in the instructions did it say anything about "dark" materials. It requested lights and mediums only. It did have two colors--blues and greens--and I have variants of red, so that makes my more monochrome in a sense, but I suppose having "dark" in it isn't an absolute. I still think the flecks of black in it make it more interesting.

Still looks like a Peptobysmal baby puked on me, but hey, that's what you get when you use primarily pink colors and hearts.

This is probably a lesson as well in ACCENT versus PRIMARY. For instance, a quirk in your character is an ACCENT. It shouldn't be so primary that it overtakes your entire manuscript and you can't focus on anything else in the story.

Hellion said...

Well done, Donna. A feisty volley! You do make a point that two emotionally crippled people, while making for interesting opposites attract fodder, are hardly a recommendation for a HEA. It's more believable if emotionally mature and stable people actually date and mate.

Those people are so incredibly rare, of course, but yes, it is something to aim for. *LOL* It would be like writing about unicorns. And cotton candy clouds.

Sorry--I'm cynical because I'm emotionally handicapped. I know the Other people exist. Bastards.

But I appreciate the "Just shut up and write" pep talk. It is all what any of us can do. It was what Jen Crusie was doing when she wrote the blog. She'd been writing and flailing about, as she puts it (because writers are like sharks; if they don't write, they die.) So she was writing anyway--but the magic of the story wasn't there for her.

So yes, definitely having mature, stable people makes for a more believable HEA, but isn't a lot of the time, we're reading for the Bigger Reach? The Bigger Reach has the bigger emotional impact, which I think is the point. I think the story with the more grounded, mature characters would be a sweet story--we'd enjoy it as we enjoy love stories--but we know they're going to end up together. There's not enough internal and external fighting against them being together. You're not holding your breath, hoping they end up together and then sigh happily when they do.

There's a difference between expectation and hope--you're not as invested in expectation, it's like betting on 2 to 1 horse in a race. But hope is like betting on the 50 to 1 horse--it's downright silly to be betting on that horse, but if he wins, OH MY!

I agree with you, Donna; I think you're right. But I also think there is more emotional payoff in couples who don't seem to have as much of a chance.

Bosun said...

I like the idea of a couple seeming like opposites, then through the story they and the reader together learn that they are actaully perfect for each other. That's the ride I like to take, but they don't have to literally be as different as night and day.

Hellion said...

Bosun, those are probably the best opposites. Pairing up a reserved neatnik with a cluttery bellydancer with pink hair just seems ridiculous. There needs to be slightly more middle ground. I think it makes for a nice affair...but in the long term, one always tries to change the other to disastrous results. *LOL*

Donna said...

Hellion, I agree about the Bigger Reach -- I love those stories. But I guess my point was, if that is not the story YOU write, you shouldn't impose those kinds of restrictions and restraints on yourself. You can hamstring yourself by trying to accomplish something that isn't your forte, or, as we all do, use it as a reason for not doing anything. :) And then where's the payoff for that particular couple?

So I'm not saying those stories aren't worthwhile. My inner contrarian is growling about the thought that it's the only way a good story can be written. Don't sell yourself short. Too many people do. :)

Hellion said...

Okay, there's something else I like that I forgot about until I'd been without for a while--

I like when the heroine and/or hero is not immediately devastated with lust/attraction for the other. They flat out don't like each other.

In What I Did For a Duke, I rather liked the tongue in cheek scene where the heroine is throwing the duke at everyone just so she doesn't have to be stuck with him--A DUKE! STUCK WITH HIM!--and it's like no one else wants him either! A DUKE! THAT NO ONE WANTS!

And on and on, they make jabs about how old this guy is like he's some sort of Methuselah. And it's not until later in the book that the heroine begins to see how handsome he really is. It's not that he wasn't handsome--just that she wasn't interested and wasn't overwhelmed with lust for him. And it's not that he didn't think she was beautiful, but that he was so caught in revenge, he didn't really see her.

It wasn't until later they were attracted to each other and it was way too late.

Sometimes I think the "attraction" is rushed; and all we hear from beginning to end is how beautiful, gorgeous, and sexy a character is, as if those are the only qualities that matter. As if we didn't have our looks...or sex, we wouldn't be attractive. It's not love.

Hellion said...

Donna, it's not that I think I should make up some convoluted conflict to make the Bigger Reach--that's contrived, which we all agree we should avoid.

I think it's just we need to think about our characters. We all have flaws. We may not think they're flaws, but they're FLAWS. Like the lying that Chance talked about. The Rogue isn't going to think lying is a big deal.

We all have flaws--and it's a matter of figuring out what the flaw is and how to use it effectively in the story to create conflict. I'm just saying I fear giving my characters flaws because I want them to be liked, but the thing is, they all have flaws whether I like to think of them or not.

How do you embrace a flaw so you can take advantage of it? *LOL*

Janga said...

I always love your analogy blogs, Hellie. They set me to thinking for days afterward.

I've been thinking about torturing my characters since Christie's post last Thursday, and I finally decided that if I'm writing with any degree of verisimilitude--and I hope I am--my characters will be tortured. I don't have to invent ways to torture them; I just have to let life happen. For the most part,even a life that looks golden from the outside is filled with enough loss and pain to fell a warrior soul. I think about my closest friends, who are smart, funny, brave women--blessed in many ways--and yet I know that each of them is battling illness, fear, or loss of some kind. And they all carry the scars of past wars. Some of the worst are self-inflicted. They are the kind of characters I want to write about.

Bosun said...

I think it depends on the size of the flaw and how you use it. In my next Pineville set story, the heroine is an alcoholic. Pretty big as flaws go. But if I use it right, and that's a big if, it can show her vulnerability and her strength to overcome something that is bigger than she is.

But I also don't think your reader has to like your character from page one. It's harder to keep them if they don't, but you can do it. The example we always go to on this is SEP's Ain't She Sweet. It's really hard to like Sugar Beth at the beginning of that book.

But SEP makes us stick around. There's just enough of "want to change" and hints that she doesn't like herself either that keep us turning the pages.

Bosun said...

I should never let my comments follow Janga's. They always pale in comparison. LOL!

Hellion said...

For the most part,even a life that looks golden from the outside is filled with enough loss and pain to fell a warrior soul.

Janga, your comments make me think for days afterwards. :) True, we don't have to inject our characters with truly troubling flaws when life can deal you enough blows--though maybe the key is not to make every moment a comedy so the reader feels the Emotional Reach, yes?

I love using comedy; I love laughing--but sometimes the flaw in the character lies in making a joke out of everything because that is how the character deals with life. How do you get the character to deal with his/her emotions for real, and why does she deal with life in this surface manner?

Though now that I'm thinking about my story--I don't think either one of them are particular comedians. Sarcastic, sure, but not funny. I would say they both take things very, very seriously--which is what ticks them off that the other person is not taking them as seriously as they do. Hmmm. Maybe part of my problem is I'm trying to make a comedy out of something that isn't overly funny--so I need to pick my humor more carefully??

Bosun said...

I think you're getting back into the subject of pulling punches. If your characters are getting close to a real emotional scene, you have to decide if you're going to let them go through it, or dodge it. My guess is the answer is never the same everytime.

But you can also reveal a lot about a character by the jokes they make.

Donna said...

You've inspired my next blog post, Hellion. :) And it feels like I am in bizarro world right now. It's technically spring. . .and it is SNOWING. Sigh.

Now that's a flaw. LOL

Bosun said...

I've seen mentions of snow on Facebook all day. That's just crazy! We had a downpour this morning that sounded really loud inside the building here, but I'll take that over snow any day.

Donna said...

My flip flops are sobbing right now. "So close!" they wailed. The winter boots are cackling.

This isn't unusual, sad to say. When I moved to MA, it was April, and there was two feet of snow, so I had to wait one more day before I could fly.

Hellion said...

Bosun, Sugar Beth is a hard to like character. *LOL* But that is a really good book.

Is being an alcoholic the flaw? Or is that a symptom of the flaw?

Bosun said...

And you still moved???

Bosun said...

Haven't gotten that far to qualify it like that. Though growing up with an alcoholic, I know the drinking is only a means of avoiding something else.

Hellion said...

Bosun, yes, I keep circling the same field again and again--and I never manage to land the thing. Yet another of my flaws.

Hellion said...

And I'm wearing flip flops today.

Hellion said...

Well, Donna, at least I inspired something with this post. *LOL* A debate at the very least!

That was last week for me, Donna. Monday it snowed and sleeted--it was DISGUSTING and by Thursday (St. Paddy's) it was 75.

Today it's supposed to be 80; and I think by Sunday it might snow again--we're not sure.

Bosun said...

Your flaw is only that you refuse to realize there are about a hundred places you could set this bad boy down. You want the ONE RIGHT landing strip, and are determined to believe no matter where you choose to put it, you're going to be wrong.

When you're not!

Donna said...

And I’m wearing flip flops today.

I hate you.

Oh, and Terri, your last comment is pure brilliance. Truly.

Hellion said...

Bo'sun, frame this comment: You're right.

Hellion said...

I'm a ditherer. A Hamlet who philosophizes about making the wrong decision and ends up being knifed in the end because no one can put up with that much indecision. We should learn from Hamlet. Make a decision and commit to the follow through already.

Bosun said...

*sigh* I'm marking the "day" not the "say". And I just undid the whole damn thing so never mind!

Bosun said...

I'm framing that AND marking this say on my calendar. LOL!

Thanks, Donna!

Scapegoat said...

Okay, before I comment on this excellent blog post I have to share this with you pirates...

A Pirate Tea Cozy!!!!

Saw it and immediately thought of you. :)

Bosun said...

That is so cute! LOL! But Hellie totally needs this.

Hellion said...

I'm feeling generous today, Bo'sun. I know what you meant; you can keep it. *LOL*

Hellion said...

Scapey, that is entirely TOO adorable (I wish I could knit.) I'm a crocheter. I can't knit to save my life; it's sad really. There's a theory that you can either knit or crochet, but not both--or if you can, it's like a person who can sign their name with either hand legibly. Bastards.

I was looking up doll patterns for Snape the other day. I've really gone about the bend.

Hellion said...

*ROTFLMAO* Yes, the bookmark is highly appropriate. Esp in my lunch room. Damn, what a bunch of gabby ass people.

Donna said...

It has NOT stopped snowing! And somehow it's making the time zip by really fast today. No wonder I'm starving. It's after 2 already. Ack.

Bosun said...

Whatever rain we had this morning is gone now. Low 70s and sunshine. Spring is here!

Donna said...

I just looked outside and there are about 30 robins out there. There's a big area where the trees are keeping the snow away, and the robins are pecking away like it's their last chance. LOL

And the one lone crocus that was brave enough to show up yesterday has snow around it. So sad.

Hellion said...

Bo'sun, stop bragging, do you want Donna to stab you?

Donna, robins are a good sign. As is the crocus--it'll be fine. Hang in there a few more days. This winter has been very stubborn.

Donna said...

LOL, I don't have any stabbing implements, so Bo'sun is safe. *grabs snow and packs it into a snowball*

I agree about the robins being a good sign. It was just surprising -- like they were saying, "WTF? We were told it was spring!" The crocus is closer to the house so it isn't getting buried.

I just don't remember seeing snow in the forecast. Somebody was using a different weather ouija board or something. LOL

Bosun said...

*dodges the snowball*

Was I bragging? I was just so surprised when I walked out of the office. It was really pouring this morning, but I drove home with the windows open.

Those robins are a good sign and I don't blame them for being totally confused.

Donna said...

Is everybody playing in the snow? LOL

2nd Chance said...

Man, I missed a good blog today! Blast!

Janga - For the most part,even a life that looks golden from the outside is filled with enough loss and pain to fell a warrior soul.

I think this is why I have a problem with the entire concept of's after the wedding bells that things get really interesting and challenging! More growth happens after the marriage vows then before. The difference is you have two people growing together. (If it's the right person, of course!)

Hellion - Humor is just another symptom of avoiding an issue, one way or the other.

We drove home through rain and hail, but the sun is shining and daffodils are blooming!

2nd Chance said...

Oooh, that comment about humor didn't sound right! The tendency to always avoid intimacy or conflict by using humor is just a symptom of deeper issues. Usually a wonderful way to deflect unwanted attention or depth.

What is I've always heard comedians say about comedy? That it's rooted in anger and insecurity? Something like that.

California, gotta love it. Downpour, heavy rain...with sun shining. No, I'm's hail. big stuff for that cloud up above must be pretty high in the atmosphere!