So sweet, with a mean streak

I call them “writing concepts,” even though they’re derived, existent, and applicable off of paper — I just call them that because I’m burning to apply them to my writing.  Anyway :

Recently, I’ve been obsessed with the notion that a character may be mostly a “good person,” but a critical flaw ruins their potential for goodness.

This may seem like I support a stark dichotomy of good and bad, but in reality I feel like this idea really displays “grayness.”  People with the critical flaw aren’t necessarily bad, just not good.  Maybe some examples will make more sense.

This year I’ve written a 16-page short story, my magnum opus, and its most interesting character without a doubt is this girl named Fang.  Fang is introduced as a nice girl who jumps to befriend the center character (Elizabeth Mei) and help her around the unfamiliar summer camp, but Fang ends up being…a bitch, honestly.  In my precis for this story, I wrote:

Fang is not a bad person.  She’s just possessive and competitive.  She’s also quite the passive-aggressive.  These things definitely prevent her from being a good person, though.

Which sounds ridiculous.  I know.  I certainly do not excuse her poor characteristics (in fact, passive-aggression is one of my least favorite traits of humanity ever).  But I could not bear to simplify the intricacies of her character to villain or bad.

Plainly, I’m trying to capture this concept, without shouting it in the reader’s face: Fang has most of the qualities that I love in a girl — ambition, intelligence, assertion.  But a competitive environment pressures and (subtly) twists her honorable qualities into wicked ones — ambition to greed, intelligence to cunning, assertion into cruelty — that show under the right circumstances.

Another character in that story is Shen.  The major facet of his personality isn’t necessarily negative, but the extremity of it causes him to act in self-preservation.  Selfishness and coldness manifest into his normally-kind personality.

…Shen was a habitual person who stuck around for over three years of a terrible but constant relationship.  He had told her that he couldn’t handle the fleeting nature of pets or his transitory childhood.  All that, and the poem, summed up to one confession: Shen was terrified of the ephemeral and the temporary, so he entrusted himself only to the stable and permanent things in life.  He had miscalculated Elizabeth’s permanence, or perhaps momentarily forgot about it—but, eventually, Fang reminded him…

If he wasn’t so enamored in his anchors, he would not have so desperately and crudely cut Elizabeth off. 

As I told my literary magazine group, I don’t consider either Fang or Shen as villains.

I’ve developed this concept by observing others in real life.  I feel like, after witnessing someone exhibit their bad side, people are too quick to say “Wow that person seemed so nice, but they must be a bad person after all.”  And, I don’t know, that black-and-white explanation always feels incomplete to me.

Anyway, I’ve always adored complicated and multi-faceted characters in literature, and this is one way I’m trying to incorporate that love into my own writing.  🙂

Here is the song that inspired the title:

 Thanks for reading!


Source of image:


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