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Writing Damaged Characters by Kirsty Ferguson

Writing is a tough gig. You have to have a thick skin to be in the business, and you need to be resilient. When I released my first self-published book back in 2015, my first one-star review left me a bawling mess and shattered for months. It wasn’t that they didn’t like the book, I could handle that, it was that they had gone online and told everybody in the world that they didn’t like it. Criticism is never easy to hear, but writers need to develop coping mechanisms besides crying and drinking a bottle of wine with each bad review. You need to be strong; you need to be better than that one-star review. It’s an art form learning to move past the critics, letting the wave of negative words roll off your back, but it can be done. You need to keep focussed, keep your eye on the prize. In this instance, the prize is positive reviews. And how do we get those? By writing a kick-ass book filled with believable, if sometimes flawed characters.

How do we, as authors have the fortitude and the courage to write characters that are flawed, controversial even? It’s easy to write a good guy that everyone loves but wouldn’t it be boring if the only character you ever read about was the good guy? No matter how well he was written? A well-written character should make you feel things, not just wonder how he’s going to solve the case, get the girl, save the world, etc. I don’t know about you, but I like my characters gritty, complicated and unpredictable. With my books, you won’t see the ending coming and that’s just the way I like it. My characters are raw, they’re real, they’re all too human and sometimes that can get mighty uncomfortable.

But how do we deal with the emotional fallout from writing these flawed and complicated characters? Do we drink a glass of wine as we write? Perhaps a bottle? Some people disconnect to write these kinds of characters, yet I find what works for me, is diving in headfirst. Immersing myself in the character’s world, finding out what makes them tick, what is their driving force?

Do you have to be damaged yourself to write a damaged character? There’s no easy answer there. Do you have to murder someone to be able to write realistically about murdering someone? No, of course not. Nor do you have to lead a cult, pull off a bank heist, or be a ghost buster but in some cases, your experience lends just that little bit more colour to the story. Can you remember the emotions you felt when someone first laid their unwanted hands on you? Yes? Well write about it. Previous experiences are a huge part of how and why we do what we do. Delving into trauma to create real characters – it’s a way of making sense of the world. Of finding some rhyme or reason as to why something has happened to you. So, while the short answer is no, you don’t need to have experienced it to write it, can you or can’t you trump real life experience?

What flawed characters can offer the reader is the capacity to surprise, real-life experience, self-recognition, showing the readers that under certain circumstances, they could be them. Flawed characters can provoke emotions whether they be close to the surface or long buried. Truth told like it is, not how you want it to be. A healthy dose of reality, escapism, and the other side to the readers’ own coin – the ‘what if’ this happened to me, how would I cope, what would I do? Would I react the same way, do the same things?

Any way you look at it, writing flawed characters, while being difficult, is as much a service to the readers as it is to yourself. Work out some issues by using your life experiences, or imagination, whichever works for you – and then dive in, explore and have fun writing about these damaged characters.

My new book, published by Boldwood Books called Never Ever Tell, is about flawed people. An abusive and dysfunctional family, a child caught in the middle of an untenable situation, and a mother who above all, will do anything to protect her child.


Never Ever Tell is available now in ebook, audiobook and paperback. Get your copy today by clicking on the cover below.

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