Wordy Wednesday: Character Flaws

Another week, another Wednesday.

The semester’s begun to settle into a routine, which is both nice and weird, because we only started this time two weeks ago but it already feels like we’ve been in school for months. (I’m also as tired as if I’ve been in school for months, but I think that’s a different problem.) (Like, for example, how I stood in front of my sink, staring at my tooth brush, for a solid five minutes last night because I had to muster the effort to actually pick it up.)

It’s also weird, because in the past week I’ve both applied for graduation and had my senior portrait taken, and THERE IS NO GOING BACK NOW. What even.

Why we’re actually here today, though: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is another writing process post. (And the last of Ariel‘s brilliant suggestions from this summer! Someone want to give me more ideas of things to talk about? I’ll pay you in hugs and writing tips.)

Let’s talk character flaws.

Character flaws are annoying, because they’re necessary to make your character relatable, but take ’em one step too far and, oh no! Now your character is unlikable instead.

Personally, I don’t mind unlikable characters. Some of my favorite protagonists are the unlikable ones. (Think Katniss, Sam from Before I Fall, etc.) But, as the term “unlikable” connotes, a lot of people, well, don’t.

So, how do you strike that balance between too perfect and too flawed? From my experience, these are a few things that work.

Cannot Be Static

I already talked about character arcs a few weeks back, so I’m not going to go into too much detail with this one. But basically your character should change in some major way between the beginning and ending of your story, and this change should be in direct relation to a flaw that in some way defines both the character and the plot.

Flaws are annoying when they’re static. (Look at what’s been happening on Once Upon a Time with Rumpelstiltskin, season after season, for Example A.) However, when flaws are dynamic–when they grow and morph and your character works to overcome them–they become interesting. They propel the story forward.

Characters stop being relatable, and start becoming unlikable, when they don’t overcome their flaws. The reader is there for a journey. Give them one.

Should Affect the Climax

This also falls under the category of character arcs, but your protagonist should have one or two major flaws that come to define him or her, and because of that these flaws should ultimately come to define the story as well. This means they need to affect the climax.

Generally, your protagonist should have to make a choice:

Option A – Everything’s (pretty much) guaranteed to be okay, but s/he’ll never overcome the flaw

Option B – There’s a good chance everything will fall to pieces, but s/he’ll have a chance at overcoming the flaw

See every rom-com ever for an obvious example of this. (Rom-coms are wonderful in general for studying stuff like this, because they’re so formulaic. I mean, ultimately they’re just doing the same things as all other stories, but they do them much more obviously.)

Would Be Okay in Moderation

Something that makes flaws so interesting is that they’re only flaws in excess. Literally anything becomes a flaw in excess.

This is a major component in what makes character flaws relatable to readers. Because while we might not have a certain trait as extremely as our favorite protagonist does, there’s a good chance we have a lower dose of it and it’s because of this connection that we connect with the character as a whole.

For example, as I mentioned, Katniss is one of my favorite characters ever. A large part of this is because of how independent she is. I can relate to that, because I HATE having to rely on other people. Take independence too far though, and you end up alone. Which is, you know, lonely. And ultimately a detriment to Katniss when she’s in the Games.

So look at your own flaws. The parts of you you’re afraid to leave unchecked. Try writing a character with them, but at an extreme.

Like not everyone is ever going to a person, not everyone is ever going to like a character. Some people simply don’t have to deal with certain flaws, so they don’t connect. But chances are, someone out there WILL share those sorts of traits with your protagonist and s/he’ll really love your story.

However: Some Can Be Smaller

Your character should have more flaws than those that affect his or her arc. Some can just be small things that add some more depth to your character. You can play these up for comedy, or just sort of weave them throughout as background information, or whatever feels right. These don’t necessarily need to be things your character overcomes. The biggest thing is that they’re there.

As humans, we’re all so extremely flawed. We have big flaws and little ones. They take shape in different forms (maybe you’re afraid of something and it’s holding you back, or you’re too brash instead). The point is that each person contains countless little idiosyncrasies. They’re what make you you.

So give your character that same kind of depth. While a certain trait or two should define the story, your character should be bigger than just those things. That is what ultimately makes a character likable.

And now, I’m going to leave you with “Flaws” by Bastille. Because every time I type “flaws” it starts playing in my head. (This is possibly one of my own flaws.)

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

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