Stumble, Fall, Get Up. Repeat. Or: How Women’s Fiction Mimics Life

Who has led a perfect life? Made all the right decisions?  Never had an error in judgment or in action?

Raise your hand!

Waiting.

Waiting.

Uh huh. Didn’t think so.

We all have our trials — sometimes literally. We all have tribulations big and small, unanswerable questions, panicked moments that turn into days or longer. We stumble through parts of our life, sometimes fall down hard.  We get up and we go on.  And then, due to human nature and Mother Nature’s odd sense of humor, we do it all over again.  The best lessons we learn are when we catapult over what once knocked us flat.

And women’s fiction is no different.  The characters, in one way or more, must mimic elements of real life.  The characters have to be believable — and perfect is not believable. Kind of boring to write too.  Plus, can you think of anything better than your character making a mistake – a bad choice – using questionable judgment – and having that hit home with readers?

BELLS! WHISTLES! BOOK SALES!

And then eventually your character finds her way of the mess, tunnel, relationship, ditch or job.   She might be dislikable for a while. She might incite panic in your reader.  She’s not perfect but she makes it out, makes a change, sees the cliché light.  And that hits home as well because she’s a character based on human traits, emotions and actions.

The same thing goes for writing.  We often stumble through our works in progress, our ideas and our revisions. Sometimes we head off in the wrong direction and if our life was a book people would be screaming NO! NO! NO! DON’T! But instead, we fall into that hole and then, we get up and we get out. We go forward with what we’re working on or we start something new.

In women’s fiction especially, art mimics life. And our lives can mimic art when we’re inspired by it. It’s not a new concept.

But it’s worth repeating.

This post was inspired by a desire to make my main character a little less capable (thanks, Pamela!) and give her a few more metaphorical scrapes on the knee. Do you characters make some bad decisions? Do something they shouldn’t do? What’s the learning curve for your character? Do tell!

20 thoughts on “Stumble, Fall, Get Up. Repeat. Or: How Women’s Fiction Mimics Life

  1. Great post as usual, Amy. The choices our MCs make – the bad decisions – are what create tension. This is especially true of character-driven fiction (which I think most women’s lit falls into). Instead of the car chase, or the gun scene, or the monster under the bed, we’ve got the same adrenaline-inciting reaction in women’s fiction. It’s just caused by the decisions our MCs make, whether they’ll ill-informed, borne out of passion, or part of the MC’s internal emotional baggage. And yes, there’s something endearing about that humanity that makes us want to continue turning the pages.

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    • Me too, Erika. I think with women-centric fiction some dislikability goes away when the reader can relate to the not-so-good stuff as well as to the changes that take the character toward that growth. It enables us to see into ourselves when no one is watching.

      Thanks for chiming in.

      🙂
      Amy

      Like

  2. I’m with Erika – my MC is in a bad spot (judgmental and resentful and self-isolated) and not too likable. Same thing with some of the minor characters – hard to get the right balance! I LOVE Amy’s blog, and get an enormous amount of insight and inspiration with every post! Thank you Amy!!

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    • Ferris,

      I read part of your novel and I thought your MC had all the makings of being very likable — and she wasn’t dislikable to me — although she sure was to some of the other characters wasn’t she? Maybe this is when we step back and give our characters a bit of a break so they can breathe? Somewhere, someone for solace?

      Like someone said somewhere in the blog comments — it’s not just our writing that is a work in progress. WE are works in progress. As writers and as people.

      I know you’ll figure it out, Ferris. And I think I forgot to mention how much I love your mc’s name!

      🙂
      Amy

      Like

  3. This is such an important point, Amy. I think we are naturally drawn to characters who’ve been challenged, are still being challenged. Who screw up, get hurt, all of it. What’s hard, as Ferris spoke to above, is how to create a character with an edge from all this challenge, without making her unlikeable, or too snarky. It is such a fine line, but so clear when that line’s been crossed!

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    • Erika,

      You’re right, there is definitely a line. I think that’s one important place beta readers, critique partners and content editors come in. The good ones will be able to tell you when a character has gone too far or not far enough. I think with the infinite level of understanding we have of our own work, its sometimes hard to see. And we have to remember that readers don’t know what we know, only what we tell them.

      🙂
      Amy

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  4. What bad decisions DOESN’T my MC make? When I first starting writing her, a beta reader suggested I just kill her off (LOL), and I had to learn — for myself — WHY my MC did the things she did before I could expect others to get her, too.

    Personally, I appreciate unlikable characters more than the ones who are basically saints despite their minor flaws…and I’ve seen a lot of them in fiction. Give me someone who seems downright atrocious at first and then give me a little glimpse into WHY they’re that way or how they’re trying to change, and you’re going to keep me turning the page. Given the right set of circumstances, all of us can act pretty horribly. It’s how we choose to redeem ourselves that shows people who we really are.

    Great post, as usual, Amy!

    Like

    • Ashley,
      You nailed it — when the reader gets the “why” then the flaws and tumbles and missteps are understandable and relatable. And sometimes if readers don’t agree with a choice that’s ok – as long as it makes sense within the context of the book.

      🙂
      Amy

      Like

  5. Oh my main character makes a TON of mistakes!!! But she learns from them and becomes a stronger person. I think that’s why I love women’s fiction so much….it inspires women to learn and grow and gain strength. The characters are relatable and even if we haven’t been in the exact same predicament (My MC gets pregnant by her best guy friend after a one night fling and he realizes he is gay) But we may have had something similar happen to us.

    Great post!!!

    Like

    • Stephanie,

      OY! 😉

      Without reading it I can tell your MC has to work out! Hope you’ll share more about that one day. I’m sure it’s quite the journey — and you’re right — we don’t have to experience the same thing as characters, but we have to be able to relate to a universal theme.

      Amy

      Like

  6. In my earliest drafts, my MC made so many mistakes that she turned out to be largely disliked–to the point that one of my beta readers wondered if she was the book’s antagonist (ouch!). I’m so glad they were honest with me, because I realized the idea I had of her in my mind wasn’t matching up with the one I was presenting. I’m happy to say that in my latest draft everyone loved her and a found her flaws made her someone they could related to (HUGE sigh of relief!).

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    • Sigh of relief is right, Natalia! Like everything else, it’s a question of balance – and believability. I didn’t even realize my mc was too capable because she was making decisions that others viewed as wrong – but she was still pulling up her bootstraps and getting things done. There’s a little stumbling in her future.

      🙂
      Amy

      Like

  7. For me, the trick or balancing act in writing women’s fiction is creating a character that exhibits just enough vulnerability for the reader to accept the character’s flaws and failings. (Not weakness, but vulnerability). I think if our characters are real, human, making mistakes, dancing near unlikability, but show a bit of a vulnerable side, readers are understanding and forgiving and will see the story through.

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  8. It sounds like your character just became more relatable! The best characters are human and human beings are flawed. Showing what Linda called vulnerability helps relate to the character. Plus, I am so flawed that I wouldn’t know how to write a perfect character. 🙂

    Like

    • Tina, I agree. I do think my character is vulnerable – but being too capable is her hang-up along with doing “the right thing” which might make her annoying. The quest is as relatable as possible!! You’re good at that! 😉

      Amy

      Like

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