Wounded Characters Part I by Nancy Brophy

This blog is dedicated to my mother who died of cancer this year – with a caveat. She would disapprove of The Munsters reference. Please disregard that part.

I prefer to write about dysfunctional families – crazy parents and imperfect siblings. Emotions so closely interwoven that loving doesn’t eliminate killing.

None of us want to admit that it is our families who make us who we are. Imagine the difference in the personality of a woman who is the daughter of June and Ward Cleaver verses the daughter of Dan and Roseanne Connor. We identify with certain characters. For me, that was the niece, Marilyn, on the television show, The Munsters, because she was the normal one in a family of the truly bizarre.

Family is important, so important, in fact, that a lot of writers have the hero/heroine as orphans. Because as a writer, you can’t just end with ‘the parents were insane’ – you have to show it. Erratic personalities are more fun to write, but also have a tendency to take over every scene. The heroine throws up her hands in disgust and walks off. The hero/heroine never come together, and the romance author (who really liked the crazy one better than the heroine anyway) has to shelve that story under the bed. At least, that’s how it happens in my life.

I once read a review of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood author, Rebecca Wells. The reviewer gushed about how lucky the author had been. She had both an insane family, and she lived in Louisiana.

Comedic movies have changed in the past few years. The physical comedy of plat falls is no longer prevalent. Now we are seeing more and more comedies based upon what I call the “pathetic or loser” character as portrayed by Steve Carell, Jason Segel or Seth Rogan, and they are successful because most of us identify with the kid always chosen last for the team.

This is not intended as a political statement, but do you identify with the politician worth $250,000,000.00 who addresses the people, as “we, the middle class”? I want to know what part of the middle class he thinks he is. Or the comedian who claims to be fifteen degrees off cool and thinks the Pentagon would reject him because he drives a scooter?

In my life, I’m closer to driving a scooter than having the big bucks. (Private donations accepted. We take Visa and MasterCard.)

Your characters must come to you with invisible wounds. As writers, we must flesh out those ancient injuries and expose them to the world. By putting a face to the wound, we make it human and lovable.

Characters without wounds have no story.

Next Friday: Social Economic factors that affect your character’s development.



Posted on November 18, 2011, in General and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Provocative post, Nancy. I think even the best families have problems. Life is all about challenge and conflict and how you handle that. Being the oldest of 9 children, I saw that each child handled conflict differently–even though we all had the same upbringing. For me, my family was always loving and to this day I now I can count on them. But that doesn’t mean life was easy.

    I believe every person is wounded in life and if we, as writers, can tap into that woundedness with our characters it is exactly what makes our protagonists easy to identify with. Many authors choose to write about characters who are “outsiders” or the “bad boy/girl” of the tribe. I also think it’s interesting to write about characters who are average–people like ourselves who aren’t particularly brilliant or particularly horrible, but just living each day in the best way possible and making mistakes in judgment and trust along the way. That is how I see life playing out. The interesting part is why we make those mistakes and how we deal with them, learn from them (or not), and what serendipitous opportunities come our way because of the path we choose.


  2. Sometimes I fear that my inner theme is, “Your family will betray you.”


  3. Su I think we write to exorcize the demons within us. Many of whom we have our family to thank for. I don’t know that we’re trying to get back to a better place as much as we are trying to smooth out the glaring road bumps along the way. Keep in mind when you were a child you also had no power. That, in itself would drive you crazy now.


  4. Terri – I agree complelely. People don’t stand alone and I want to read about the people who helped them get to the weird place that they are


  5. “Characters without wounds have no story.” So true, Nancy. And like the reviewer said, writers without wounds have no story either. I definitely didn’t come from a June and Ward Cleaver family, and I have to say my favorite novels are ones about very broken hero/ines who have a lot to learn as they find their happily-ever-after. That I write characters looking for family and who find themselves along the way probably says a lot about my own beginnings, which was pretty good until I was twelve. Deep down I wonder if I’m trying to get back there?


  6. So true, and I do not relate to orphan stories as the cast of characters is limited to me, myself and I. Everyone else is a stranger and disposable at the first conflict.


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