Why Do Imperfect Characters and Story Worlds Resonate with Readers?

ACFW Advice, Authors and writing, Characters, Conflict/Tension, Friends of ACFW, tips, writing 4 Comments

By Cynthia Herron

You might think because I write Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction my story worlds are a delightful Sunday-Go-to-Meeting escape.

Well, I can’t fib. That’s somewhat true…to a point.


As a conscientious writer whose goal is to share a great story, I strive to balance the delightful with reality-based conflict in a heartfelt, homespun way. Today’s readers want meat-and-potatoes stories that resonate. They want stories with real-life, flesh-and-bone characters who struggle with imperfections and issues inherent to today’s times.

They don’t want society’s vision of perfect. They want fiction that’s perfect for them.

For some readers, those story worlds resemble disorder and chaos. For others, their happy medium is more of a slow, climactic build-up. Some like intense, non-stop action. Some prefer violence and mayhem. Still, for many, the perfect story is the rise and fall of an underdog with hardship (eventually) overcome.

My fiction has an inspirational romantic slant, so you’re not likely to find intense violence or dark, underlying themes. This says a gal drawn into The Hunger Games. BUT…therein lies the power of a great story. And I do love when good triumphs over evil.

My characters do mirror real people who struggle with real problems. In my non-fictional world, though, I abhor conflict and I shy away from it.

Conflict toys with our emotions and sends us on a roller coaster ride.

In fiction? Well, of course, there’s no story without it. Conflict’s the perfect kindling for possibility. For change.

Even in our beloved Mayberry, there was conflict. Remember, the great pickle dilemma? Poor Aunt Bee thought her garden pickles were the greatest yummies since sliced bread. In reality, not so much. Leave it to Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife to rid their office and the town of those putrid-tasting pickles without dear Aunt Bee ever finding out.

And how about Opie and the spoiled kid? In that episode, Opie learned that manipulation did nothing to advance his cause or garner respect. Huge life lesson there, too.

I’m also a huge Waltons fan. I loved the nostalgic feel of Earl Hamner Jr.’s long-running television series. Still, there was conflict, and the Walton family and community weren’t without their share of problems. During its television stint, the show tackled subjects like alcoholism and drug addiction, illness, marital discord and rape, to name a few.

One of my all-time favorite authors forever changed the face of inspirational fiction and made us think in new and out-of-the-box ways.

 Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers remains on my keeper shelf to this day. Certainly not homespun fiction by today’s definition, but oh what a beautiful story of sacrificial love and a novel I highly recommend.

It’s not a comfortable, easy read. It is, however, an absolute life-changer. It’s a tremendous example of Christ’s love for us in a non-preachy, unconventional way.

I adore Jan Karon’s Mitford books, and I’m also a die-hard Debbie Macomber fan. While I enjoy countless others, I identify with these authors and I’m sure you can guess why.

In the above examples, the writers’ worlds are perfect—in imperfect ways. Each author has varying degrees of conflict and their stories unfold naturally and without preamble.

The characters and story worlds aren’t perfect, and yet they are—for their fans.

As I write, I don’t strive for perfection.

Just like this writer’s real-life world isn’t perfect, neither are my story worlds. Even-keel without conflict = humdrum. Boring.

Now, I admit…

I have a love/hate relationship with the “black moment.” Sometimes, I wish my characters would just wake up and smell the coffee before they have to suffer. But it must happen.

And most often, they’re changed by it and better for it.

As a writer, that thrills me.

What is your best think-out-of-the-box strategy when you write?

What does your ideal story world look like?

Just like our real-life world isn’t perfect, our story worlds shouldn’t be either. @C_herronauthor @ACFWTweets #ACFWblogs #amwriting #writingtips Click To Tweet

Cynthia Herron writes Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction from the beautiful Ozark Mountains. Her Hope Discovered, her début novel and the first in a three-book series, released December 2018. “Cindy” loves to connect with friends at her online home. She also hangs out on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Cindy’s work is represented by WordServe Literary.




Comments 4

  1. My life is soundly teaching me
    that there are no happy endings,
    no trumpets sound in victory
    amidst the miracle of mendings.
    Writing this, I find I’m fading
    in and out of lucid thought,
    and it seems perhaps amazing
    to me, that I do what I ought.
    Right now I do not want to write
    of trials against malignant pain,
    but “I don’t WANNA!” sounds so trite,
    and really, what’s the gain.
    I may as well choke down the fear,
    and bear witness to what happens here.

  2. Hi Melissa,

    I love reading about “everyday” people, too. I think ordinary people, with good points and bad, make us feel more normal. Reading about characters who struggle and overcome obstacles endears them to us all the more.

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