Monday, January 26, 2015

Ophidiophobia, Anyone?

Q: Many readers say that they prefer a protagonist with flaws to a model of perfection. Did you intentionally give your protagonist flaws, and if so, what are they? What flaws are you uncomfortably with?

-from Susan

Was Nancy Drew perfect? I don’t recall, but I do remember even at 10 thinking she was a little too Goody-Two-Shoes for me. I write about human beings and human beings aren’t perfect. I’m also an avid reader and I want even silly protagonists to be flawed. In fact, the silliness may BE the flaw.

What does get a little old is the lonely P.I. with a sour attitude, a half-empty whiskey bottle and a serious smoking habit. It’s more fun to think up unusual flaws like phobias no one’s heard of, or addictions we can relate to, or peculiar passions. As a reader and writer, I may not be able to slip entirely into the protagonist’s skin as she stares quivering out the window at the pouring rain (Pluviophobia) or runs screaming from the kitchen when her host opens the white refrigerator door (Leukophobia), but I’m not wild about snakes (Ophidiophobia)* so I have some idea of what the poor person is going through. And, if you’re a writer, can you imagine the scenarios possible with problems like these?

What don’t I like? Sexual sadists, serial killers, child killers, sociopaths, pedophiles, hit men, the cruelest in the human race. 

Remember the killer in the backseat of Marge’s patrol car at the end of “Fargo”? She looks at him in the rearview mirror, from the safety of her sanity and embedded place in society and can’t fathom him. I feel like Marge. I do read and watch some pretty scary stories, partly because the writing or filming is so good, and partly because I don’t want to be a wimp or so far removed from what’s popular that I don’t understand the market or the times. But I can’t write those characters because a) I don’t know what goes on in their heads; and b) I don’t think I want to know.

Dani O'Rourke is a modern woman with problems a lot of us can sympathize with: Her divorce left her insecure; she struggles with 10 pounds that refuse to leave her waistline; she is a little cynical about some of the situations she finds herself in at work; and she can't seem to find a loving partner. Nothing earthshaking, but enough to keep her off balance and distracted when trouble pops up.

There are so many flaws that make people vulnerable, that can drive them nuts or cause them to lose all perspective and yet not make them monsters. Those are the flaws I hope to uncover and use as a writer, and read about and enjoy as a reader.

With thanks to:


Paul D. Marks said...

Susan, just like none of us are unflawed and perfect, neither are our characters...if we want them to be real.

Excuse me now while I go exercise my pluviophile (not phobia) tendencies :)

RJ Harlick said...

Susan, I'm with you on not wanting to write about serial killers, psychopaths and the like. I can't even watch the TV shows that focus on such cruel killers. Like you, it's far more interesting to explore ordinary people who are pushed to commit the ultimate crime.

Meredith Cole said...

What a cool list of phobias! Thanks for sharing, Susan.

Susan C Shea said...

I'll bet you don't even use an umbrella, Paul!

Robin, isn't it fascinating to try and understand what makes someone just like us take such a drastic, unthinkable action?

Meredith, I could have gone crazy on those titles. (My reference URL was too far below the text, sorry.)

Robin Spano said...

Very thought-provoking post to kick off the week. And thanks for teaching me a new word!