Showing character flaws helps to make a book believable. Too many flaws and you risk making your character unbelievable, too few, and readers won’t be able to connect or identify with them. I’m sure we can all think of someone we have known who comes across as just ‘too perfect’ – did you like them? I know I most certainly did not. There is no such thing as perfect. Characters have to be believable, warts and all! As in life, if your character is not believable (ie. too perfect), then you are already on the back foot with not too many places to go. Enter stage right…. flaws. Flaws within your characters give readers an opportunity to connect, to understand who your character really is. They allow readers to develop a picture of who he/she is. It is those unique flaws and traits that will breathe life into the bones of your story. Finding the balance is the challenge. In this post I want to share what has worked for me when exploring flaws within my characters. These are not ‘you must’ but just my ‘ might be helpful for you’ thoughts and ramblings:
- Keep it real – This is the number one for me. You have to believe in your characters. Are they real? Could you meet them in the street and believe in them? Don’t forget, your readers live in the real world too. As stated previously, none of us are perfect, which is why we can identify and connect with characters whose shortcomings we recognise. Build in flaws that readers can easily connect & empathise with, or at least understand.
- Ask what’s wrong? – By asking what’s wrong you may uncover some of your characters flaws. I use this question time and time again as I write. It helps me to question & develop a rapport with my characters. For me their flaws unfold as I write and spend time with them. As I start to understand them I realise what’s wrong and more importantly why.
- Past history – Show don’t tell your readers why your character is the way he/she is. I find mind mapping really useful here. When I developed Laine Marshall in All Tomorrow’s Parties I knew I wanted her to be believable, but, I also wanted some of her decisions to be questionable. Lets face it, who hasn’t made a few bad decisions over their lifetime. With that in mind I armed her with a history, a past that would explain perhaps some of her thoughts behind those bad decisions. By giving your character a heritage you are adding depth and insight into who they really are. Lets face it, we all have a past, some of which has taught us some important lessons.
- Is it reasonable? – Can you, as an outsider looking in make a reasonable leap to believability? Do the flaws your character has, fit with who they are? Is it a reasonable assumption to make? If half way through your story the character becomes introverted and shy with no explanation, when previously they have been outgoing and extrovert,it will not be believable and therefore not a reasonable leap to make.
Trust your characters – The flaws of each of your characters is what helps to make them who they are and ultimately what the readers will love about them. I have many friends who drive me to distraction with their flaws (this works both ways of course), however this is what makes them who they are and why I love them. Don’t be afraid to give your character flaws, it helps to define them and makes them unique.
I hope you have found my ramblings useful. Please feel free to let me know what works for you when identifying your characters flaws.