No Fun in Perfection

(Note: I’m writing this with a 100+ fever, so bear with me here.)

I read a fantasy book where the main character was flawless. He learned magic and swordsmanship with ease. The other characters were in awe of him even though he began as a farmer with no training. By the end of the story, he was unstoppable, but he was basically unstoppable at the beginning too. There was never a doubt that he would succeed, which I can deal with to some extent. It’s that he succeeded without sacrifice, without difficulty, and with his losses rather laughable. Compare this to a character I mentioned in my last post that had minimal combat training and spent the last battle running until getting a lucky shot in on the main villain. You knew the character would win because the heroes usually do, but the character didn’t become some super-warrior. I felt this was more believable and helped me relate to the second character. The first character I mentioned was more of a placeholder that I was hoping would wander off for a few chapters.

Flaws are everywhere in our world, so I think it is only natural for flaws to be in fiction. As someone who reads fantasy books, I find that they are teeming with flawed characters. Frodo’s battle against the influence of the One Ring, Ender Wiggin’s fears and self-doubt, and so many other characters that make me connect to them on some level. I remember these characters for their struggles and not because they came out on top. After all, you need an interesting road to travel from the first page to the last page. An imperfect character gives you more to work with because the flaws bring twists to the road. For example, a hero with a gambling problem can have a subplot that he/she is looking for a family heirloom that he/she lost in a game. You can also have the character lose an important item in a game and he/she has to find a way to get it back. Some people might see this as a distraction, but when has one’s path through life ever run straight without obstacles. Besides, it’s a lot more fun to read a story with dips and swerves that make a reader groan and, hopefully, yell at the character out loud. One of my favorite instances is when a friend was reading my book and I was in the kitchen when I heard him say, “The hell is wrong with you, Luke! Stop being an idiot!” It brought a victorious smile to my face because I felt that I made a character that could be connected with.

The first book I wrote in high school had this problem with three of the four main characters being perfect. The fourth one was a narcissist, spoiled brat who would go on to be my favorite character of the heroes. I found that it was the flaws of the character that made me want to use her more often than the other characters. So, I began deciding on flaws for characters when I was creating them. This ranged from severe phobias to hearing voices to my personal favorite of reckless cockiness. I also found that I didn’t want my characters to get out of a fight without taking a few hits. There was a sense of peril and the idea that they would lose that I wanted to portray to the reader. Luke Callindor takes beatings, but keeps on fighting. Once I noticed this quirk and had a small internal conversation with him, I started doing it intentionally and his fighting style became more defined. It would be this battle cockiness of Luke that I transferred to his overall actions. He would mouth off to the wrong person because he had this ego that went unchecked, which made for a great flaw that he could work to overcome.

I mentioned that the trick to creating a character with flaws is to put them into the character during their creation. This can be accomplished by creating a background for the character and just going wild. You don’t have to keep everything, but there might be a few gems that you never knew was in your head. The real trick is making sure these flaws translate into the story, which can be difficult. Many writers want to protect their main heroes and it gets difficult giving them a flaw. You feel like you’re burdening this child with a problem that they did nothing to deserve. This is where the path comes into play, but a writer doesn’t always think ahead to the end of the story. They look at the now and a flaw is a rough addition when you haven’t thought about how the character will overcome it. The idea that they will overcome the flaw might not even cross your mind. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Nobody likes to be flawed or revel in their deficiencies, so it is slightly bizarre to willingly give a flaw to a character. Yet, there is something cathartic about putting flaws into a character who you can lead to conquer the flaws. I find that I learn a little about coping from my own characters because I refuse to make them perfect. Luke is oddly inspirational to me when I write a chapter section where he is out-matched and he finds a way to get out alive. He doesn’t always get out unscathed, but he finds a way to survive.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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17 Responses to No Fun in Perfection

  1. Ken says:

    I’d say the flaw in perfect characters is that there is no flaw in them. 😛 Nice post.

    Like

    • slepsnor says:

      Thanks. I can see how a perfect character is flawed in that they have no flaws, but I guess it would be how the character is done. The character I was referring too was perfect in the way that there was nothing that the character couldn’t do. If he was that perfect and other characters resented him for it then I’d be more interested, but the other characters practically worshiped him. It felt like it was more lazy writing than a thoughtful choice. Though, it could just be me being nit-picky. Not every character is going to be liked by the audience.

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      • minisculegiants says:

        Very, very nice post It’s nice to know how other writers do this. Serious fiction writing is still fairly new to me. I can see I need to do some ‘background checks’ on my main characters. I love your idea of internal conversations, too.
        Thanks a bunch!

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      • slepsnor says:

        You’re welcome. Something that I used to do was write minor scenes with a character. Just him or her hanging around a bar, shopping when they were younger, or something rather inane. I let the action and dialog flow without forcing it and it helped me get a more solid understanding of the character. Guess what I’m suggesting is to treat your characters like new friends who you have to get to know.

        To be honest, I still discover things about some of my characters. I’ve been using Luke Callindor in various mediums since 1998 and the guy still throws me a curve ball from time to time.

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  2. Pingback: Conflict: Fancy Way of Saying Good vs. Evil | Legends of Windemere

  3. Saunved says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Incidentally, I found out that I have managed to put up a few flaws with Dennis and the other characters in the book. I hope they work out well! 😀

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    • Great. Flaws and quirks definitely make them more interesting. An example that I noticed with my characters is Luke rubbing his palms against his sabers when nervous, Nyx letting fire run along her body when annoyed, and Sari spinning when she wants attention. If you can create differing speech patterns (something I’m horrible at) then that helps too.

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      • Saunved says:

        I am bad at speech patterns. I am trying to work out one for Dennis. He has this “rolling his eyes” when confused trait. He loves to oppose anyone and he is ready to fight right till the end even though finds out in between that he was wrong. A flaw, definitely, but one he loves. And I love him because of this flaw of his. When it comes to giving them actions, I am finding it a bit hard. I mean, “rolling eyes” isn’t exactly something I would want him doing throughout the book. Plus, its getting really hard to fit it everywhere. Working on it though.

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      • It helps to people watch. Observe the tics and quirks of people around you to get a few ideas. Twirling hair around a finger, biting the lower lip, chewing nails, etc. Everyone has something like this and it’s never just one thing. It’s usually a few. I have a habit of pushing my glasses up my nose even when they haven’t fallen and I scratch my head. My wife says ‘uh’ a lot and rambles when talking. I have a friend who hops from one foot to the other when she’s nervous and rocks back and forth when she’s happy. Just see what’s around you. Though, I suggest doing it without staring. That could be a little awkward.

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      • Saunved says:

        Haha. When you mentioned it, I realized that I do push my glasses back too, even though they are not falling off and I tend to scratch my head a lot too! Coincidences!
        Yes. I will observe people now. Looks like I will have to step out of my house a bit now! 😀

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      • Good idea. Using a telescope from the window gets the police interested. 😉

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      • Saunved says:

        You read my mind. I was just about to try that. Too bad I can’t.

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      • Saunved says:

        Just posted the second part of the excerpt of the First Chapter. Do check it out when you find time. Here’s the link for ease of access: http://saunved.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/rccupdate-4/

        Thanks 😀

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  4. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    I think I should try writing with a 100º temperature; maybe it would improve my writing.
    That aside, Charles makes a good point about creating your character’s background. Everything you write may not go into the novel’s pages, but it will show through the character’s thinking and actions.

    Like

  5. I’m so glad Mirror Obscura reblogged you so that I could visit your site! You write well (even with a fever) and have a very informative site.
    Your surrounding forest provides a nice touch of tranquility. A few of the blogs I’ve visited had backgrounds that made me want to run as fast and as far away as I could. And I did.
    I have observed people and the quirky things they do for years. Part of being a nurse, I guess. You can tell a lot about a person just by looking at their mannerisms, body language, and watching their eyes. I jot down my observations to help me remember them for a character.
    Years ago I had a friend who whenever she was nervous would put her hand on her cheek, but her little finger always went into the nostril closest to her hand. I have yet to find a character for that nervous habit.

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    • Interesting habit. Never heard of or seen that one before. I use a lot of lip biting, hands through hair, and sighs because that’s what I tend to do. A few odd ones here and there if they dawn on me. Amazing how many quirks are out there.

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  6. Pingback: End of an Era Revisit: Conflict: Fancy Way of Saying Good vs. Evil | Legends of Windemere

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