Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Too Many Flaws?

For most stories, the main character is the reason the reader latches on.  Readers get emotionally invested in the guy(or girl) at the center of our story.  They want to see this person overcome great obstacles and emotional heartache to ultimately triumph.  This warms the heart of our readers and makes them beg for more, all while cheering from the safety of an easy chair.

This is where balance has to come into play.  We can't create a hero so perfect that the reader can't relate.  The main character has to be flawed and struggle with some of the same issues we all face.  That makes the triumph that much more sweet in the end.

However, it's possible that we can make a character that's too flawed.  Put in too many foibles, especially ones that turn off the reader, and any sympathy for the main character dies.  If that happens, our story will shortly follow the character to the proverbial grave.

Anti-heroes are all the rage right now.  You know...the tough guy who bucks the system and tells people to get bent while he or she pursues a noble goal.  But if this anti-hero goes too far, he becomes a villain.  It's okay for a person to despise working within the police system because the bureaucracy makes things impossible to accomplish, but the guy who goes overboard - like, say, busting in without a warrant and killing the wife or child of the villain - will turn off audiences and could actually make people root against him.  This can be the death knell for a story.

Always re-examine your main character and make sure that person has the right combination of nobility and vulnerability to make the reader want to follow.  For example, in my most recent work, Onyx, the main character is an arrogant guy due to his brilliance and early achievement in life.  However, I've found the need to constantly go back and re-evaluate this person to make sure I'm not overdoing the arrogance bit.  Yes, readers would expect such a guy to be supremely confident of his record, but there have to be things to balance that out.  His new circumstances have to sow seeds of doubt, and he has to find himself in situations that humble him a bit.  Without those thing, people will just cheer at him getting his comeuppance.

All of our characters have to strike this balance.  Go back and ask - are the flaws too flawed?  Would people cheer when he or she overcomes the scenario, or would they grumble because the character didn't run off a cliff?

Anyone can create someone flawed.  A good writer creates someone we want to cheer for in spite of those flaws.


  1. You know? I have the hardest time making flawed characters or at least, SHOWING those flaws. But you definitely don't want that eye roll moment where you reader thinks, "Oh of course this character screwed up/didn't make a mistake."

    1. Completely agree. Perfect characters are unrelatable to the audience.