It's difficult to create flawed characters.
I feel protective of my creations, I want them to grow up to be tall and strong and to remember to floss and look both ways before they cross the street.
Instead I have to make them drink too much, or have a temper, or lack compassion. But that's not enough, I must also throw misfortunes at them. My darling characters lose their jobs, their health, their family, their place in society.
Creating Flawed But Likable Characters
If, like me, you find it a constant challenge to make life hard for your characters, then A.L. Sowards article, Creating Flawed (But Likeable) Characters, is a must-read.
But, you might ask, why must we make our characters flawed?
The fact is, flaws make characters interesting. (Also, they leave room for improvement. If the protagonist is perfect at the beginning of a story it doesn't leave her any room to grow, to change.)
Chances are, your reader can relate to your character’s Diet Coke addiction because your reader just opened another Diet Pepsi or opened another bag of M&Ms. Does your character have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning? Who can’t relate to that? Does your character spend too much time on Facebook? Maybe your reader does too, or if not them, their roommate or sister or someone else they know and still love. Does your character get nervous talking to people of the opposite sex? If your reader survived junior high, they can relate.
Balance Flaws With Strengths
If a character is nothing more than a bundle of flaws then it's going to be as difficult for readers to relate to her as it would be if she were perfect.
For instance, if a character does something despicable, give them a great motivation.
If, like Shrek, one of your characters is "rude and crude" but he's funny chances are we'll end up liking him.
Character Is Plot
Sowards gives the following examples:
Perhaps your heroine is obsessed with having perfect nails, and while she’s touching up her two-day old manicure, she misses a call from her romantic interest, or lets down her best friend who really needed her right that second. And maybe as part of the climax she has to do something she knows will result in a broken nail, but the trade-off will be worth her sacrifice.
Or does the villain in the novel know your character has a lead foot, or a weakness for raspberry sherbet, or really bad aim with his left arm? Can the villain use your hero’s weakness against them, or somehow force your character to overcome their flaw just in time to save the day?Excellent points to keep in mind!
I've barely touched on all the riches contained in A.L. Sowards article, I encourage you to read it in full: MBM: Creating Flawed (But Likable) Characters, By A.L. Sowards.
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Photo credit: "ASTEROID PLANET - digital-art" by balt-arts under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0.