(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.