Sunday, March 6, 2011


March 5th marks the beginning of the Iditarod. “The Last Great Race on Earth” pits man and beast in a race covering 1,150 miles over some of the most dangerous, intimating wilderness in the world. Equipped with only a sled and a loyal team of dogs, the competitors are tested against jagged mountain ranges, frozen rivers and lakes, thick forests, arctic deserts, and wind-whipped coastline. If the terrain wasn’t challenging enough, this all happens during brutal temperatures below zero, blinding blizzards, and long arctic nights.

It takes character to compete in such a grueling, hostile race. This year’s competitors once again include Lance Mackey who is going for his fifth consecutive win after overcoming drug and alcohol addictions plus beating throat cancer.

Talk about character. Lance Mackey is adventurous, ambitious, spirited, and flawed.

Let me tell you about my grandmother. She was a woman with no equal. A wife and mother of four, published author, English teacher, artist, woodcarver, photographer, fisherman, sled dog breeder, and musher. Besides being a wife and mother, all the other accomplishments where achieved after she had turned forty. Not only was she creative, daring, and tenacious, she sucked at cooking, refused to clean, and routinely had strawberry ice cream for dinner and pie for breakfast. My grandfather worshipped her.

My grandmother in her sixties.

When I begin crafting a character, I develop the flaws first. Flaws are interesting. I say this as a writer not as a wife. Sometimes the flaw is big enough that it becomes what the character needs to overcome. Lance Mackey had to conquer his drug addictions in order to become an Iditarod champion. Now my grandmother being addicted to strawberry ice cream is fun. I can play with that and have. In one of my books, my hero is a health nut and my heroine is a junk food fan. When my villain poisons a salad, these flaws save her life, but incapacitate my hero’s.

My husband has flaws that can frustrate the hell out of me, and I know that I have a few that drive him insane. Being a writer gives me the power to exploit his flaws or finally solve those imperfections. At least, fictionally.

I love reading about strong, bigger than life characters, even gods and demons with their other worldly powers, but it’s the flaws that make me truly care about them.

If you’re a writer, what flaws have you integrated into your characters that make them fascinating? As a reader, what are some of the flaws you enjoy in characters?

Tiffinie Helmer


Boone Brux said...

Awesome post,Tiffinie. Whoo Hoo to women over forty! You have an amazing grandmother and great take on character development. Gotta FB and Twitter this one:)

Great job.

Tamera Lynn said...

Great post! I think all too often writers focus so much on making a character likable, they forget how important flaws can be. I always have the "six things that need fixing" in my novels, and they always include character flaw.
BTW - I wanna be just like your grandma and mine! Mine was tackling email at the ripe age of 80.

LizbethSelvig said...

Hey Tiffinie,
Really fun post. My grandma and now my mom sound like your grandmother--what a great lady! I've always said I want to be like that when I grow up.

As for character flaws--I have a huge problem making my hero and heroine flawed enough. They have quirks and, perhaps, one mistake to overcome, but an honestly loveable flaw is harder for me to create. So, I love your suggestion about writing the flaws first!

And, go Iditarod mushers--I'm a huge Lance fan! Thanks for the post.

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Thanks, Boone for the FB and Twitter yell out! My grandmother was a great teacher in life after kids. She never gave herself limits, and I plan on being just like her.

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Tamera, I love the "six things that need fixing!" I'm going to have to add that to my character development. Thanks!

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Lizbeth, here's to getting old and eccentric! And go Lance! I know there are some that don't want him to win again, but I love how he has beaten the odds.

Liz Lipperman said...

Great post, Tiffinie. I love flawed characters, because let's face it, perfect is boring. I always make sure my important characters never take themselves too seriously and can laugh at themselves occasionally.

My current heroine pops Hostess Ho Hos like they were prozacs, and like your Grandma, she can't cook a lick.

Fun post. And kudos to Lance for overcoming addiction.

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Liz, I can't wait to read your book. Isn't your heroine also a food critic? I love that she can't cook.

Donna Cummings said...

This is so great--I'm now a fan of your grandma because of the ice cream for dinner. :)

I hadn't really considered creating the flaws first. Maybe it hasn't happened because my characters show up with their best behavior--trying to seduce me into telling their story. It's only later I find out how troublesome they can be. LOL

Anita Clenney said...

Great post, Tiffinie. I love your grandma. What a wonderful character. A real life character. I'm working on the third book in my series and still developing the characters. I'm going to think more about the flaws. YOu're so right. They're interesting and so important to the character.

T.H. Browning said...

Awesome post! Writing the flaws first is a great suggestion.

In order for characters to be interesting and believable, they have to have flaws. No one is perfect. As a writer and reader, I believe the best characters are the ones that make you feel. Like Liz said, "perfect is boring." You may not agree with the character's POV or actions, or even like the character, but this is what creates the most interest, evokes emotion, keeps you engaged, and thinking about the character long after you've finished the book.

I just finished reading Delirium and remember wanting to yell at the main character, even jump into the book, shake her and say, "What are you thinking?" I liked this book so much because it had a uniquely fantastic storyline with interesting characters.

Btw - You have an amazing Grandma and I'm looking forward to reading your book! :)

Kris Yankee said...

My grandma used to let me ice cream and cantaloupe for breakfast, so I can safely say our grandma's would've been friends!

Flawed characters are the best. I, too, believe that their flaws are what make them endearing to the reader. Their flaws are what drive them to do their best and overcome their issues.

Great post!

Kerrigan Byrne said...

I envy you your grandmother, she seems like an exceptional lady.

I have a hard time with flaws in my characters. I like to try to find the ones that are forgivable or surmountable. Hopefully I succeed, but sometimes, I forget about them and them my characters are unrealistic. So... this really reminded me to focus on their humanity.

Great post!

Mikelynn Helmer said...

Every great book is built on amazing characters. Having just attended a writer's conference and been hit over the head how important all the "bad" things are in a character, otherwise you get flat people on the page!

I love the bit about the after forty lifestyle. Hopefully I'll have some characters that rise off the page now.

Thanks for the inspiration!

Thanks for the

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Donna, I think the world would be a "sweeter" place if we had ice cream for dinner more often. Maybe that's what I'm fixing tonight.

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Anita, I remember the first time I saw Phantom of the Opera. I feel in love with the Phantom. I wanted her to be with him not that wimpy guy. But then she couldn't really be with him because he killed people. Not the best husband material, but even or maybe because of his flaws, I loved him. He was hero material just crazy.

Tiffinie Helmer said...

T.H. great comment! Just to let the rest of you know, this blog inspired T.H. to write her own. Check it out. It's awesome!

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Kris, ice cream and cantaloupe is an interesting combination. My grandmother also showed me how to fry cheese in the mircowave. Both of us loved cheese crisps. But then I had to go and ruin it by catching the mircowave on fire. She took the blame, I was nine. Maybe I'll make some fried cheese for lunch.

It's going to be so fun to teach my future grandchildren all the things she taught me. But I'll probably leave getting stitches out of it.

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Kerrigan! So good to see you.

Sometimes those "unforgivable" flaws are the most interesting to overcome. You write really strong characters. No wimpy flaws for them.

That's another blog post. The stronger the character, the bigger the flaw. What do you think?

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Out of the mouth of babes, Mikelynn! And get ready for your mother's fortyish life style. You might need therapy.