Last time I asked you to share your superpower, that trait—useful or not—that makes you unique. Everyone shared some great stories, although none of us had skills that would land us on Cracked.com’s “Real People with Mind-Blowing Mutant Superpowers” list. *eyes the superpowers that made the list* Maybe that’s a good thing.
At the end of that post, I mentioned that our characters should have unique strengths and flaws as well, but I didn’t get a chance to fully dig into that idea. Serena Yung brought up a “superpower” in the comments that reminded me of a character development trick along those lines. Serena said:
“I’m able to get extremely, heads-over-heels obsessed with something, e.g. writing, or pokemon, or psychology, that I can keep talking about this same topic for a VERY long time. … Maybe this is more of a (super) weakness than a superpower though, because these obsessions can get me “stuck in a rut”…”
Hmm… “Maybe this is more of a (super) weakness than a superpower…” Serena touched on an interesting truth: Character traits can be both a strength and a weakness.
Develop Character Flaws through Their Strengths
Strengths and flaws are often two sides of the same coin. Interference is often the “bad” side of helpfulness, control can be the bad side of protectiveness, obsession can result from love, etc. The intentions and motivations for both sides can be identical.
This fact gives us another method for developing our characters. Often when we talk about the change a character goes through during a story arc, we think about an actual change from trait “a” to trait “b.” A character goes from distrusting to trusting, insecure to secure, and so forth.
However, if we’re having trouble thinking up a flaw for a character, we can look at their strengths. Maybe one of those strengths can start at the “bad” end and work its way to being good.
In that case, their character arc would be less about a change from one trait to another and more about a different perspective on the same behavior or attitude. Instead of changing from “a” to “b,” they’d change from trait “a” to trait “A” with a capital letter.
Echo the Hero and Villain with Extremism
We can use a similar technique to echo the character traits of the hero and the villain. Stories where the hero and villain have only one degree of separation can be very powerful and carry deep themes of the line between good and bad.
For these stories, we’d look at a strength (which could also be the beginning flaw) of the hero. We’d then take that strength and carry it to its extreme negative end to create the villain.
Every good intention can go bad if carried to the extreme. The line between a little bit extreme and a lot extreme can be the difference between a hero and a villain.
I have one story where the heroine is a pawn between two powerful people. They both have the ability to control her, but one restrains his controlling nature and the other embraces it. Guess which is the hero and which is the villain? *smile*
Stories like that allow us to examine how the trait or ability itself isn’t “bad.” As with so many things in life, it all comes down to how that aspect is used—or abused.
Another fun approach is to have heroes and villains with the same goal. The difference lies in how they plan to achieve that goal and how far they’re willing to go, believing that the end justifies the means.
As many of my own stories attest, I have a fondness for books that explore these nuances. Those are the kind of “shades of gray” I like. *grin*
Registration is currently open for my two workshops designed for those with no knowledge of WordPress, websites, or blogs. Interested? Sign up for only one of the workshops: For a free website/blog: “Develop a Free Author Website in 60 Minutes (or Less!)”; or to set up a website/blog you own: “A Newbie’s Guide to Building a Self-Hosted Blog or Website.” (Blog readers: Use Promo Code “jamisave” to save $5 on registration.)
Also, a reminder that I’ll be holding a one-hour live Q&A session about all things WordPress today, Thursday, April 11th, at 7 p.m. Eastern time on the WANA International Facebook page. Come pick my brain! *smile*
Have you used the technique of turning a strength into a flaw before? What about echoing the hero and the villain through the level of their extremism? Do your heroes and villains ever have the same goal? Can you think of other ways to use strengths and flaws for character development?Pin It