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  • Writer's picturePearl Lorentzen

Stories are beautiful because of flaws

The other day I took a picture of a ligulara, which is a tall yellow flower. There is grass growing up past the flower and a bug on one of the flowers. As a showcase of someone's garden the photo doesn't work, but as a piece of art it does.

I'd taken some without the grass, but the sun wasn't dancing off the petals in the same way, and they weren't as close. Also, upon further reflection, I realized that the grass adds extra lines, the bug adds interest and even the out of focus background gives depth. I liked the photo because of the perceived flaws when looking at the context.

Ligulara and grass. Photo by Pearl Lorentzen.

Weeds are the bane of every gardeners existence. Also, healthy relationships are more fulfilling than conflict filled ones, except for in writing. The conflict between characters is what drives the story. If the protagonist and antagonist agree on everything, there is nothing to read about.

However,characters who never get along with anyone are seldom relatable and engaging. Characters with conflicting wants and goals. They don't have to disagree about everything, but at least one meaningful thing.

Also, characters without flaws aren't relatable, complex, or interesting.

In order for there to be meaningful conflict, it is generally speaking a very good idea to have at least two characters in a story.

A female red-breasted merganser appears to be conducting her ducklings. Photo by Pearl Lorentzen.

On the flipside, a story can have too many characters. I struggle with this. I always want to know about all of the relationships my characters have and how that impacts their story. However, often when it comes to writing less is more.

The mamma red-breasted merganser in the photo above appears to be conducting her brood. However, to understand the image we don't need to know the names, favourite colours, and hopes and dreams of all of five ducklings.

Depending on which duck or duckling is chosen as the protagonist, the story will change. Is the story about the lead duckling, the mother, the one in the middle? While their interactions with other ducks, the elements, and predators such as the pike lurking under the water, influences their actions, but it can't drive the story.

There have been times when I'm writing and I realize that the character I think is the protagonist is really just a supporting character and I've been approaching the story from the wrong angle.

At others, I realize that I have three characters, which really serve the same purpose. If I combine them, they make one complex, messy, and interesting character. This general works better. Another sign that this might be a good idea is when I can't keep my characters straight. If I've been actively working on a story, and still think of a character as 'who-ya-ma-call-it' how is my reader going to keep them straight.

This could indicate many things a) the name isn't memorable, b) and more likely the character is boring and not believable, c) the character isn't necessary, and d) some combination of the first three, and other considerations which could take hours of editing.

While beauty and hope in a story are important, I try to remind myself to leave enough messiness to make the story believable, relatable and interesting.

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