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Posted by on Jan 21, 2011 in Thoughts on Writing | 1 comment

Creating Flawed Characters in Fiction

Creating Flawed Characters in Fiction

Unless we’re talking about baking, I’ve never been what you’d call a fan of perfect. When things sound perfect, I start looking for the catch. That’s just how I’m wired.

It’s the same when I read a book. I expect conflict, complications, complex characters prepared to screw up their lives in the most spectacular of ways. I mean, they can still have a happy ending if that’s where the author feels the story needs to go, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for the perfect couple to meet on the perfect day and have the perfect life forever.

It’s not just unrealistic, it’s boring.

I dislike boredom…

Building Character Flaws

Photo Credit: loungerie via Flickr

As you can imagine, I try to avoid the same things I hate reading in my own writing. I have to say…It’s tough. Sometimes, I find myself feeling bad at how mean I am to my characters and I want to swoop in on my Author-GodĀ PegasusĀ and deliver my creations to a magical garden where there are no problems and call it a day…even if it didn’t work out too well for the first couple who did that.

Of course, then I snap out of it and remember that my job is to make my characters’ lives suck as much as humanly possible before I kill them or give them a happy ending.

Umm…some of my writing turns into a bloodbath…Deal with it.

Blowing Up Character Flaws

In some ways, I feel like characters in fiction can’t just be like normal people; they must be larger than life. I guess writing good characters is a lot like stage make-up. You have to put it on think so that people in the audience can see it.

So, with fiction writing, you must find ways to exploit character flaws if you want the reader to really get it. For example, if you’re writing an impatient character, it’s not enough to have them tap their foot and glare at their foot. Sure, people might think he’s just in a hurry, but to really drive home your point about his impatience, have him constantly interrupt, have him drive way too fast, have him take the stairs two at time.

You get the idea.

Creating Flawed Villains

Photo Credit: J.J. via Wikipedia

You know, I think most experienced authors do a good job of creating flawed heroes or giving protagonists quirks that make them interesting. It’s villains where the lines begin to blur. If you think about it, villains are totally flawed because they’re supposed to be some kind of flawed demon creatures bent on death and destruction.

Except…they aren’t.

Writing the villain who twirls his long black mustache while tying the helpless damsel in distress to the modern day version of the railroad tracks isn’t just boring and cliche, it’s just plain lazy.

Yes, your villains can be bad guys. Yes, your villains can be bent on world domination. Yes, your villains can even be crazy if you like.

But they’ve gotta at least be human on some level!

Think about it, y’all. If you’re writing a whodunit and your sleuth is trying to pick up the trail, it’s not going to be a very exciting book if the villain stands out in a crowd. I mean, not a lot of bad guys in the real world are spitting on kids while kicking puppies and trying to overthrow nap time.

No, in the real world, some of the worst bad guys are giving tons of money to charity and building schools in poverty stricken areas in between corporate espionage. In the real world, hardened killers are tucking in and reading bedtime stories to their kids after a hard day of goin’ a murderin’.

The point is that most villains are more complex than the stereotypes from old cartoons. They’re totally whacked inside their own head, but manage to hold it together on the outside for as long as they need to – or your story needs them to.

If you think about it, the character flaws for villains are the redeeming qualities that make us hate them less or – dare I say it – like them.

How Do You Write Flawed Characters?

Everyone writes character flaws a little differently. Personally, I like to start with my perfect protagonist and find ways to tear him down. For villains, I like to imagine how I would react to tragedy or terror if I wasn’t, you know, a reasonably sane person.

I just tone it down before my terrorist starts tying the damsel in distress to the train tracks.

What do you do when you’re creating characters to ensure they aren’t too perfect?

Until the muse returns…


© 2011 – 2013, Sydney Katt. All rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  1. I have had a character in my head for years but I felt silly writing the stuff down. I finally started to and I realized I am going to have to make several characters out of what I have.

    I don’t like books that play out like the ending of a fairy tale. I don’t want my book to be perfect, cheery and sweet all the way through. I want my hero strong but not invincible. I want there to be some hurt in loss in all the stories I read. That is what makes them feel real.

    So I will keep that in mind while writing but your ideas on how to start characters was helpful. Thanks!

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