Thursday, January 12, 2012

6 Reasons to Write Flawed Characters

It's so tempting to write the perfect character: the dream man, the rugged hero, a character who could grace the catwalks of Milan, knows exactly what's going on, can solve anything. But it never turns out well. One element every character must have is a flaw. And here’s why:

1. Credibility. No one is perfect. No one is good all of the time and no one is bad all of the time. It’s just not real. We all have multiple flaws, both internal and external.

2. Likeability. A likeable character is an interesting character and they are usually interesting because of their flaws.

3. Relatability. We can relate to characters with flaws. It’s easier to care for a character we can relate to. We may yell at them for making stupid mistakes*, but that’s part of the joy of reading about them. That relatability draws the readers into the story and keeps them there.

4. Conflict. Flaws get characters into trouble which can add tension to a scene and build much needed conflict in the plot.

5. Uniqueness. If we all wrote perfect characters, they would lack distinction. I think part of what makes us unique is our different combination of flaws.

6. Growth. Growth and development are essential to the main characters across the course of a story. Flaws give the writer this opportunity.

Can you think of other reasons to write flawed characters? What are some flaws you've used?

*make sure they learn from those mistakes and don't keep making the same mistakes.

50 comments:

  1. I love writing flawed characters, especially the mc and the potential love interest. They are always fun to write.

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  2. I prefer characters who are good all the time, be it realistic or not, because that inspires people to take them as role models and be good themselves, and not just see themselves in the flawed characters.

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  3. You covered the main ones. I think I almost over-flawed my main character. Actually had to tone him down a bit. Main flaws were arrogance, untrusting, and perfectionist.

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  4. I love flawed characters, both writing and reading about them. It adds to the believability when characters are flawed, because everybody is in some way.

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  5. I love writing and reading stories with flawed characters! They're more interesting!

    Take care
    x

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  6. I think exposing the flaws of characters that aren't aware of their flaws makes for a good comedy. :)

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  7. Growth is my favorite reason! Who wants to read about someone perfect? BORING!

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  8. I'm bookmarking this post. I've been thinking about one of my MCs for the novel I'm rewriting and I really need to work on his flaws.

    Some flaws I've used include recklessness, sarcasm, and insensitivity to other people.

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  9. The trick is to make a flawed character who's also likeable.

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  10. One of my character's flaw is being too perfect which gets him into trouble.

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  11. Good reminders here! My characters keep secrets that get them in trouble when they come out.

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  12. I love it when an author pulls this off well. If they can hook me on a flawed character with good intentions, I'm in!

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  13. Excellent points! I also find it easier to relate to/ like a character if they aren't so perfect all the time. Plus without growth where are they going?

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  14. My characters cab be too perfect, I admit, but I try to make sure each one has something (or somethings) that holds them back. My current MC is impulsive, which is good in some ways and really bad in others.

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  15. The flaws are what make the character interesting

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  16. My characters have insecurities, even the alpha male. One of my leading ladies was a gossip. Another one slightly OCD. Part of the arch is in overcoming or embracing their flaws.
    In romance they are physically beautiful. Their character, though flawed, has to be one you can fall in love with a little bit yourself.

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  17. Oh a flawed character is far more interesting than a perfect one and as stated, if a character is already perfect, how will they grow and change?

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  18. Wonderful post. I think all characters are flawed, and if they think they're not, that's a flaw right there! Ego is great to play with.

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  19. Likability has a lot to do with it. I read a review of a book where the blogger said the main character was too perfect and since she couldn't relate to her, she wasn't very likeable.

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  20. The best reason to write a flawed character is on purpose.

    :)

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  21. I love it when a character's perfection is their weak point. It messes with your head, but it's a sobering reminder that perfection is absolutely unobtainable. There is some comfort in that.

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  22. I'm with LG - I love a flawed character with good intentions.

    I hate "perfect" characters. Mostly because they're boring. And I want to slap them.

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  23. Excellent points! I think you've hit the nail on the head.

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  24. Dezzy, I think characters who can grow and learn and change into better people are a great inspiration too.

    Alex, aw, but I love Byron. Great flaws :)

    Tonja, that's a great point.

    Golden, I think recklessness makes a great flaw because there's a small part of all of who want to break loose and be a litle reckless ;)

    Luanne, I think the intentions make a world of difference to the likeability so that the flaws don't get in the way of that likeability.

    Erin, yes, particularly in romance they need that attractive quality.

    Suze, lol. Well said.

    McKenzie, It's great fun to write characters who think they are perfect too.

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  25. Perfection can be just a little boring, not to mention demoralising :-)

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  26. Thank you for the post.

    Could a reason be:

    "It would be very difficult for the reader to bear perfect characters in such an imperfect world."

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  27. Such a fabulous post. As someone said above, this is an issue I have with my own writing, attempting to write a hero & heroine who are way too perfect to be real. I think one of the best points you listed was the fact that flawed characters add conflict. And what's a book without that? A golden rule to remember, definitely.

    My CP and I were just talking the other day...If you're a romance reader, read Kristan Higgins. She is FABULOUS at writing the flawed character. One of the many reasons her releases always land on my keeper shelf.

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  28. I love your posts and will be sharing this on Facebook and Twitter.

    As for flawed characters, it draws peeps into your story. It gives others the ability to feel they're not alone and even can help real peeps solve their own issues in life.

    I like watching the rehab, hoarder, and the strange things people eat shows to get good grip on personality disorders so to speak. I also rely on some of the wierd peeps I know.

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  29. This is an excellent post, Lynda!

    Great list.

    I would add - reality - which runs parallel with or extends from number 3 - because in reality, we relate to a situation or character.

    In reality, there are no perfect people, and even the good ones have some kind of flaw. When I'm reading, I notice myself saying "in reality, this would never happen", or, "wow, in reality, yeah, that could happen".

    I especially like number 6.

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  30. I write verse and not alot of prose. But I do read. The flawed protagonist was present in the first epic peoms (Homer, etc). And Shakespeare relied on these techniques to create dynamic tension. A novel without it fails to engage my attention and keep it. The idea of a shared humanity is critical in literature.

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  31. I agree 200% with your posts Linda, but if you only knew how many stories of rejection I hear because of a "flawed protagonist". It makes me question sometimes what readers are really looking for.

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  32. Amen! One of the first things I ask myself about a character is "what is their primary flaw?" Very cool:)

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  33. I think you covered all the important points. Perfect characters are boring!

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  34. But... a secondary character - not the main - can be perfect. I've written one, and he worked, but he he didn't and couldn't take up too much space. And he did his significantly imperfect moments.

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  35. Great post! No one wants a perfect character because then we wouldn't be able to relate to that character at all (since we're not perfect). ;)

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  36. I've noticed that especially the love interests are always a little too perfect in a lot of books. Their supposed "flaw" is really just another endearing quality. Not quite realistic or well-rounded. And they're always so annoyingly hot and gorgeous, to the point of cliche. It's easy to want to make the "perfect" character, though, when we write. Our ideal.

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  37. Flaws make characters human and allow for growth.

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  38. I agree, although I do think that sometimes authors blow their character's flaws out of proportion. I read a romance novel once where the heroine pretty much did nothing but freak out, cry and scream, right up until the end. Despite the fact that she had justifiable issues, I just couldn't get past it. I wanted to reach through the pages and choke her little neck.

    Erm, anyway, you're right though. Characters definitely need flaws. :)

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  39. Alyssia, I think one of her books is on my shelf waiting to be read. I'll put it on top of my TBR list I think.

    Shelly, thanks so much for the share. Ha, great shows to see different personalities.

    Loree, exactly right. Perfect characters are just not realistic.

    Anne, Homer and Shakespeare have fantastic examples of flawed characters.

    Robert, you have me curious about this perfect character with his imperfect moments :)

    Carol, yes! It can be a little too unrealistic, although I have to admit occasionally I like to be carried away on some fantasy.

    Jasmine, absolutely. The trick, with all things, is to find that careful balance so the characters are still likeable.

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  40. I always liked arrogance as a character trait. Sometimes just a touch and other times a major case of it.

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  41. Great post. Flawed characters are the best. We relate to them and they do things that we can see ourselves doing. Thanks for this.

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  42. Hi Lynda! Yep you nailed it. Flawed characters are so much more interesting... the kookier the better IMO!

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  43. My next project is an old idea that was shelved and will soon be revisited, and my MC could benefit greatly from some flaws. I realized after the plotting and crafting that while the story around her was compelling and intriguing, she herself was "too good to be true."

    Thanks for the reminder!

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  44. I too like reading about and writing about flawed characters as flawed characters are more interesting and come across as closer to reality.

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  45. I love flawed characters. I love reading about them and I love writing them.

    Great post!

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  46. Nice list of the reasons to include flaws in characters. Being able to relate to the mistakes a character makes is certainly a good way to draw a reader in to your fiction.

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  47. Those are some good reasons, and I have to agree with you, Lynda. Nice post!

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  48. So far the longest book I have completed is a chapter book. My mc is lovable, but flawed. He is greedy and makes lots of mistakes. but he solves his own problems and improves his character.

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  49. Lauren, good luck with your next project. Giving your MC a few flaws will bring the story alive.

    Sharon, your chapter book sounds wonderful.

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  50. If a character is not flawed, the character is probably not fully developed. Flaws are what make us human, and make our characters relatable:)

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I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.