Updated: Nov 23, 2022
Today, I will be talking about broken characters, or at least, my interpretation of what a broken character is.
Of course, that leads to the question of... what do I mean regarding a 'broken' character? After all, most characters, nonetheless people, are 'broken' in some way, shape or form, correct? (Or is that just my own nihilistic view?)
Well, to answer that, I'll go a bit into what I mean SPECIFICALLY. So let's get started, shall we?
To begin with, as mentioned earlier, a lot of characters can be 'broken'. To me, they are fascinating and grab my attention pretty quickly.
'Broken' characters can be summed up in multiple ways, and, while they are interesting, they are not the only type of character out there to be written and they do not work for all stories. It depends on the writer and the genre. For Romance, this is almost a cliche, yet for sci-fi or fantasy its a bit rarer.
A 'broken' character, while the term might not be the best way to phrase it, is a character whose had everything thrown at them time after time and is unable to recover. This character can be the abuse victim, the person who can not think of anything but self-harm, or even just the person whose heart has been broken one too many times to the point they become jaded.
An example of a broken character that I've seen recently is a character from a dungeon's and dragon's game. The character in question was created by the cast of Critical Role, a popular streaming and youtube channel. While many of the characters have depth and their own trauma, one character in particular stands out as 'broken' even in his own terms. That character is Caleb Widogast. An unfortunate soul who was blinded by nationalism, tortured and manipulated before being forcefully convinced to slaughter his parents. Obviously... he didn't take it very well. However, that story was the past. In the current story, we see a character struggling to deal with all that happened and slowly start to 'live' again. This is a certain type of broken character, and one I find incredibly interesting.
However... they can also be incredibly difficult to write. After all, they follow a slim line between broken and 'edgy' or, well 'angsty'. That's the thing, a broken character isn't all 'angst' (a feeling of persistent worry about something trivial.) They can be joyful, kind, thoughtful... and yet they can be cowardly, dark or even quiet. There are different levels of a broken character, but they all remain mostly the same in that: They've all had something done to them that they cannot (mostly) deal with themselves.
Now, writing a broken character is not as easy as one might think. Even if someone is 'broken' doesn't mean they can't live normally. It only means that a part of them can't move on. They can still smile, they can still joke, but their defense mechanisms are more likely to crop up than someone whose dealt with their problems, or someone who has had a better chance at life.
To write a broken character, it is best to decide what it is that they are dealing with, and how they are coping. For instance, a character I've created smiles whenever someone asks if they are alright. Their smile is almost reflex and often seen as genuine, they joke and make fun, in light-hearted ways, of those around them. Yet internally they can't help but call themselves a failure, unable to do a thing, useless. They know they need to get over it, but they also can't help thinking this way.
They struggle to deal with their thought process while also trying to figure out how to move forward... that they HAVE to move forward. These characters need to figure it out for themselves, more often then not. Yet outside influences, such as a friend, relative, or stranger can and, often will, set them to the path they need to follow.
For example, the character I referenced earlier. He spent years on the run, unable to really progress or move on. Then, one day, he met a group of strangers and, slowly, even though he had every inclination to run at every turn, they pulled him in and he began to see them as a family he no longer had. While there are still many aspects of his past that haunt him, the influence of those around him, of the family he's created, has helped him begin to cope.
This is a good example of a broken character, at least in my book.
These are just a few examples of what I would call a 'broken' character or, as probably a better term for it, a complex character. So what about you? Have you ever written a broken character? What about reading about one? Is there a specific one that is your favorite, or do you find them difficult to read about? And if so, what are they struggling with and what are their strengths?
After all, like in the examples above, a broken character doesn't have to necessarily remain broken... just as a character who hasn't had to struggle too much can be broken by life and circumstance. Honestly, anything can happen, both in stories and in real life.
So, what do you think? Do you agree with what I said?
If you are interested in reading more of my works I have a book coming out in a few months time that directly is involved with a broken character, so why not read the other books in advance?
Julie Boglisch is a prolific author. At the age of twenty-eight she has already created and published multiple works. Her second series, The Elifer Chronicles, received a glowing Kirkus Review. She is an artist both in character art and cover design and is the creator of her own covers for her works.