The Writing Life: Not So Happy Land



Not So Happy Land

by Michelle Janene

James Scott Bell has said, “People don’t want to read about happy people living in happy land.” Which seems odd since many read to escape the hardships of this life and get lost in the lives of someone else. It is human nature to want to find connection—even if it is with a fictional character.

If all characters are a perfect size two, drop-dead gorgeous, and ripped with muscles, those of us who have never been that size—even when we were two, are only pretty, or could use a gym membership, can’t relate.

When creating a character, they need a flaw or two. A beautiful woman with an overly long nose, or a lazy eye can make for great tension. She may always wear large glasses to distract from her nose. She may refuse to look anyone in the eye, to avoid the stares and questions. The male character may have stubby fingers or a swath of freckles.

The same care must be given to each character’s personality. She is sweet while in others’ presence in order to retain her status or reputation, but in private, she is judgmental. Now the reader has a character they can cheer for as she grows and changes or one they may celebrate when they see her downfall.


He seems good like a perfect match, but in truth he is controlling. Will he be able to let go and trust someone else? Only the writer can decide if these flaws are overcome or the cause of the character’s final defeat. If the majority of the characters in a story are perfect with no hang-ups, flaws, or limitations, where does the story have to go?

While doing world building, make sure that it isn’t perfect either. Magic comes at a price, gardens really do have weeds, not all government systems are fair, and vehicles break down. Each of these creates great opportunities to build tension and conflict into the story. This is the heart of any grand tale. Tell the emotional and physical journey of overcoming challenges we can all relate to in a life that is never perfect.

Another thing to consider when creating characters and worlds is to include people with limited abilities, or from different ethnicities. Care must be used not to depict these groups in a stereotypical or disrespectful way. Though it may be part of your main character’s story to dish out or be the recipient of harsh treatment make sure and show how they become a better person along the way in spite of that situation.

When all is written and read, we want is to identify with someone else’s struggle and know we are not alone. If that character in the book we just read could overcome their challenges, maybe we can too.

Go forth and create flawed people in a messed-up land.

About the Author


Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer.

She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.

You can find her at Strong Tower Press, Turret Writing, on Facebook, Twitter, and on Goodreads.

You can read Michelle’s column on the 3rd Tuesday each month here at Pandora’s Box Gazette.


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