On Committing to Your Characters’ Flaws

So I’ve found myself stuck in a certain chapter of my NEXT BOOK revisions, and when I asked myself what the issue was with this particular chapter, it came down to “well, this is the chapter where you have to commit to a bunch of stuff.”

For example: I’ve told you a billion times that this is a portal fantasy where an adult goes through the portal instead of a child or teenager. BUT, since the protagonist is familiar with portal fantasy rules (since the story begins in the present day, where all the classic portal fantasy novels already exist), at one point she learns that the world on the other side of this portal used to take children through the doorways.

So I’ve spent half of this book building up a bunch of sympathetic characters, and then our protagonist learns that they used to (from her perspective) steal children.

So part of me is like, have I made this portal world irredeemable even though they once did the exact same thing that Aslan and Peter Pan and the White Rabbit did? Even though they’ve now changed their policy on who gets invited into their world? Even though it’s been generations since they last brought a child through the portal?

This isn’t the only thing I have to fully commit to in this chapter, but it’s the start of the section where our protagonist begins to uncover the flaws in this new world and in her new friends and in herself, and part of me is like “what are the readers going to think if I make the flaws TOO BIG?”

I mean, the other day I read Neil Gaiman’s advice that part of writing is exploring the TOO BIGNESS of it all, and going into those dark places in both our human selves and the stories we tell, but then I start asking myself if maybe this could be a world where they didn’t ever take children, so our protagonist (and our readers) wouldn’t have to deal with that.

But one of the reasons I wanted to write this book was to take the portal fantasy into those particularly uncomfortable places, and so I’m hesitant to cut that kind of stuff out.

Because the truth is that whenever you say no to something big (like your family or, literally, your world) in order to say yes to something else, there’s probably something dark and uncomfortable and messy that you’re leaving behind, and at least one person that you’ve hurt (whether or not you mean to).

And then you find out that your new thing isn’t perfect either.

And you have to deal with it.

The other part you have to deal with is the idea that people who do big dark uncomfortable messy things can be forgiven. That, by the way, is another standard part of the children’s narrative that becomes harder to examine from an adult perspective, and so part of me is like “maybe that person didn’t have to do that thing?”

But then I wouldn’t be writing this book, I guess.

And I’ve told myself that I can always, like, not publish it. Or revise it again and again until I feel like I’ve gotten the balance right.




Leave a Reply