Flaws. We all have them. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. Let’s face it: no one is perfect. Our hopeful imaginations can believe we are, or someone else is, but in stark reality, we are all filled with little traits that bring us up short in the perfection department.
I’m loaded – LOADED – with flaws. That is one of the truest statements I have ever written. I don’t have enough free space on the blogosphere to list all my faults and flaws, so I won’t. But this got me to thinking about my characters and their flaws and imperfections. Have I given them enough? Too much? Ones that don’t ring true? My- egads!! – own??
So what is a flaw, really? It can be a physical imperfection, such as, “her snow white beautiful skin was flawed by the one huge wart across her nose;”, a weakness, as in, “the plan to attack Gettysburg was flawed when the generals didn’t take into consideration the huge number of wounded they’d need to attend to;” a shortcoming, “he’s a great teacher, but he doesn’t think ahead.” It can even be a failure: “poor programming flawed the computer game leading to poor sales.”
CHARACTER FLAWS are by definition those flaws that are inherent in the characters you write, or they can be stated as flaws in a person’s makeup – or character, if you will. For my discussion here, I’m calling them those quirks, mannerisms,thoughts and actions that help make my imaginary characters feel more human and real. They are the internal facets of the character’s emotional, spiritual and thought-related makeup.
Perfection is boring. This is true; think about it. What drives a story, whether it is plot or character driven? Conflict. If your characters are perfect – never get mad, always have things work in their favor, everyone on the planet page likes them – then I’m sorry, your story will be snoresville. Big time. No conflict. But…what if your heroine is a sassy, sarcastic-yet-insanely-witty reporter who will do anything to land a story? She doesn’t let anyone or anything stand in her way. Now, a mega-selling writer moves to her tiny town for peace and quiet and our lovely heroine makes it her unending goal to secure an interview with him. Her doggedness – which really borders on utterly annoying at times – can be her grace and her flaw, especially since our hero writer wants nothing to do with people, reporters in particular. Our girl can’t give up. Won’t give up. Sees giving up as the end-all of weakness and defeat. She can’t lose out on this interview, she simply can’t. Humble and withdrawn she is not. She will never admit she can lose, it’s just not in her. Until….
Scenario two: our hero is a doctor. His parents were killed in a car crash when he was a teen. A crash he witnessed and lived through since he was sitting and sulking ( as a good little teen does )in the back seat. His parents couldn’t be saved due to the unpreparedness of the emergency team. He vows to never let another survivor go through what he went through and strives to become the best, most intense doctor he can, to the exclusion of everything else in his life. He is focused, dedicated, arrogant, and unrelenting. Enter our heroine, a free spirited nurse who was raised on a commune, supports alternative methods of medicine, and believes in karma. His character flaw – he can’t ever relent in his pursuit of medical excellence and he spurns and vilifies anyone who doesn’t think the same way as he does, is in direct conflict to the nurse’s stop and let nature take it’s course approach to health care. Both are stubborn, dogged, and unwilling to change their views. Until…. you fill in the rest of the story your way.
One of my basic flaws has to do with my being such a stubborn a** at times. I will fight to the death even when I KNOW I am wrong about something. It’s just not in me to give up…on anything. Yeah, it’s a real problem. It can be a blessing in disguise sometimes – some very few times! – but mostly it’s just annoying to those around me. I am up for growth, though. And stubborn though I am, I am willing to change.
Just not right now and not when I’m in the middle of an argument.
What flaws and faults have you given your characters and how have you helped them overcome them? Are they believable flaws? Do they serve a purpose to the character and the story? Do they inspire conflict? And if you want to go the physical route, what are their external flaws? Warts? Humps? Lumps and deficits?
Think about perfection. It’s a nice thought, but the reality is, perfection isn’t that great. It’s boring, uninspiring and a one-note. It’s like having nothing but vanilla ice cream the rest of your life. Delicious and lip-licking for a time, but after a while you want a little chocolate.
But flaws, well, that’a whole ‘nother story, isn’t it? And it’s a good story, too.
2 responses to “Character flaws”
This is brilliant! Spot on with perfection being boring. As a reader i like to relate to the characters im reading about and it makes them much more human and likeable to see them recognise their flaws and to try and grow as well – makes me, as the reader feel like im growing too!
Laura – much thanks. Since I am a severely flawed human being, I, too, would rather read about someone with foibles and faults.