I’m back at my novel, after having had a break, and I am deeply into a plotting exercise that I have to complete before I start the second draft. I’ve been trying to get inside the skin of my main protagonist, Lindiwe Dlamini, for over a year now. I know her fairly well, but it’s an ongoing process of discovery. Let me tell you a little about Lindiwe:
She’s in her late fifties, and, having started her career as a teacher, now heads up a Swiss-funded AIDS organisation. Lindiwe’s husband Andile was a community organiser who died in police detention in the Eighties. He was the love of her life and she has never – despite taking part in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – had any closure on how he died or who was responsible. Her oldest son Peter died of AIDS in his mid-twenties. Her second child, Bongani, manages a small business and is happily married with two children. Her daughter, Mbali, is a fashion journalist in Joburg and shows no signs of settling down, though she has a handsome boyfriend who spoils her. Neither child approves of their mother’s work in AIDS: they think she has worked too hard all her life and that she should retire and enjoy her grandchildren.
However Lindiwe is committed to doing her best for her community. Shaped by apartheid and their religious beliefs, it’s how she and Andile tried to live their lives. Turning away now would be a betrayal of their shared goals. So she keeps working, helping those less fortunate than herself. During the course of the story, a series of events will challenge Lindiwe’s belief in community, and she will have to decide whether to choose a small group of individuals over the collective.
Here’s my problem: isn’t Lindiwe a bit too perfect? I’ve said before that I have a tendency to write lead characters who are too damn nice. As chief protagonist, Lindiwe needs to be relatively likeable, otherwise we might lose sympathy with her. I do feel though that she needs a flaw – apart from her sugar vice – that makes her a little more complex and nuanced.
You have more emotional distance from Lindiwe than I have. Please, suggest a flaw. She needs one.