Do They Have Flaws?
To feel lifelike, our characters must have flaws like real people. Without flaws, our characters risk making our whole story seem unbelievable. Look at much of the fan-fiction out there, where writers too often embark on a wish-fulfillment project by inserting themselves into the story. In fact, these perfect characters are so common there’s a name for them: Mary Sue.
So how do we make sure we’re not creating a Mary Sue? By giving our characters flaws. Real flaws. “Flaws” like oh, my lips are too big and pillowy like Angelina Jolie’s do not count.
To be safe, just avoid thinking of any physical characteristics as flaws because it’s too easy for these to be overcome. Tall/short, skinny/curvy, big-chested/small-chested, scarred/flawless—someone, somewhere likes those traits. And simply trying to find a person who likes their physique isn’t enough conflict for our characters’ stories.
Notice what I said there? About conflict? A-ha. That’s the key. The best flaws create and enhance the story conflict. Let’s look at some ways to implement flaws that add conflict.
- Relate one of a character’s flaws to their greatest strength. (More of that contrast I love.) Every trait has two sides.
- Are they rich and powerful because they’re good at analyzing the pros and cons to a situation? Is that annoying when applied outside of business to their personal life?
- Are they loving and responsible because they had to raise their kid sister? Does that parental-type bossiness carry over into the rest of their life?
- Does the character have a phobia or weakness? Can that be milked during the plot events? We all knew Indiana Jones would have to face his fear of snakes.
- Is a character’s flaw one of the other characters’ pet peeves? Or can their actions because of their flaw come back to bite them in the butt later? Think of all the ways the plot conflict can tie in to their flaws.
Weaknesses are all opportunities to show character growth. This doesn’t mean that characters’ flaws should be overcome and rendered null and void. Characters still need to end the story imperfect or we’re back to a Mary Sue. But this does give us a unique way of developing flaws for our characters.
Think of the final showdown in your story. Think of what skills, attitude, or belief your character will need to have to survive that experience. Now turn that around. Can that necessary trait be one of their flaws when they start the story?
We can use this technique with our secondary characters too. If they end the story trusting your main character, should they be distrusting in general? That would add conflict to the story as the main character now has to overcome the secondary character’s mistrust. And conflict is good.
So listen to your characters to determine what they think their flaws are, but don’t stop there. Keep going and give your characters more flaws: physical, emotional, and psychological. And let’s see if we can make at least one of their flaws play into the larger story conflict.
What kind of flaws do you give your characters? Is there such a thing as too many flaws? Or can a flaw be too horrible for the reader to accept?Pin It