The Perfect Character; Not so Perfect?

You’re reading a book. The protagonist is a female, tall, willowy thin, beautiful, kind, caring, compassionate, smart, with a high-paying job she loves, and a loving husband. She is sweet and honest, and never fights with anyone. She doesn’t have an addiction to chocolate, and she never drinks too much wine.

At this point, you’ve probably chucked your book at the wall, right? Here’s the thing about writing fiction. Your character cannot be perfect. No one wants to read about characters that are perfect; they WANT bad thing sot happen to your protagonist. On top of that, your character will be uninteresting, and your conflict will be harder to sustain if you don’t throw in a few flaws. So what do I mean by flaws?

Sure, she can have a crooked nose, or a stutter, but that’s not really what I mean. Your character has to have at least one deep-seated psychological flaw. Something deep, internal, something that will fight against her every step of the way. This is where your back-story will come in handy; you’ll need to figure out what happened to her to make her have that flaw, or it won’t be believable.

What are some of possible flaws? Lack of ability to trust people, fear of new situations, fear of asking people for help, fear of looking stupid, fear of showing who you truly are, fear of relationships, etc. Did you notice all of those flaws are based in fear? Personally, I think that those are the most effective ones. You can always use flaws like being arrogant, or being prejudiced etc, but those flaws can be harder for your reader to accept. No matter what anyone says, EVERYBODY has something they fear. The trick is to mine those fears, exaggerate them, then give them to your character. That’s what will make readers identify with you protagonist and keep turning the pages.

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9 thoughts on “The Perfect Character; Not so Perfect?

  1. I have stopped reading books because the main character was way too perfect! I agree – good main characters definitely need some sort of flaw, especially an internal one. Great post!

  2. My current female lead has serious issues. She has a fear of going back to places with bad memories for her. Ie; boyfriend broke up with her in Vegas so she won’t go back. Guy who got her pregnant lives on the beachfront so she won’t go to the beach. Too many bad memories, but this only lends to make her world smaller, which creates problems for her as a mother. I think it makes her more believable, but also lets the reader empathize with her, which creates something real, not a fantasy world that readers can’t associate with.
    You are right, every character needs a deeper flaw than dirty teeth.

  3. The more I learn about cognitive biases and how they affect out thoughts and behaviors, the more I find them seeping into my writing and humanizing my characters. We all fall prey to bias from time to time, but being aware of the types of bias can allow a person to compensate for them and avoid making decisions based on flawed thinking. My characters are usually completely unaware of their own biases, which leads to some interesting conflicts that “ring true” to readers. This site is a gold mine of flaws that we humans are particularly prone to: http://youarenotsosmart.com/all-posts/.

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