Nobody’s Perfect

You know those people who seem to do everything right? Their hair always looks great; they scored a zillion on the SATs; they run marathons; they bake the best brownies you’ve ever had; they never get grouchy or say anything bad about anyone. You kind of hate those people, right? Me too.

The same goes for fictional characters. Generally, I like characters that have a few flaws. Maybe they say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Maybe they are a little selfish. Maybe they get flustered or overwhelmed. Maybe they burn the brownies. That doesn’t mean your characters have to be heinous. They can still be upright, kind, honest people. But like real upright, kind, honest people, they have their own flaws.

At Rachelle Gardner’s blog, Rosslyn Elliott has a great guest post about incorporating flaws into your characters. One point I especially like is about cosmetic character flaws, which are “victimless” in that they only hurt the protagonist. Like being self-conscious or self-critical. (Basically, things you say are your flaws in a job interview.) These flaws may be real, but they’re not going to mean much to a reader who is looking to relate to someone non-perfect. To balance that out, Elliott suggests you need a real flaw that hurts other people in some way. Her examples:

“Cosmetic character flaw: Insecurity. Its real counterpart: envy and sabotage

Cosmetic character flaw: Fearfulness. Its real counterpart: disloyalty under pressure”

I love the idea that you need to connect these internal flaws with actual interactions with other people. This is how your flaws manifest themselves. And as Elliot points out, great fiction comes from real flaws and troubled interactions with other people:

“If our goal is to stir deep emotions or joyful laughter, to show real love, to comfort the lonely, to make readers think or remember…our characters need real flaws. We can’t play it safe with our readers’ sympathy–we have to let them go to the edge.”

Make sure to check out the whole post. Do you specifically think about your characters’ flaws?

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