Last week I talked about liking your characters and how if you care what happens to them, your readers will care also. This week, we need to talk about the things you don’t like about your characters. Their flaws that make them real.
Think of yourself. You have good qualities and qualities you wish you could change. Same with your significant other, your best friend, and your kids. We all have characteristics that make us who we are, good and not so good.
Why do your characters have to have traits that are less than desirable? Why should they have a flaw? Or a few?
None of us are perfect. No matter how much we’d like to be, we have flaws. Giving your characters flaws makes them feel more real. And if they’re real, they’re relatable. The key is finding the right flaw so your characters stay on the right side of the line between relatable and too stupid to live.
So what’s the right flaw?
What do you think about the alpha male who has a soft spot for his mom?
Or the kick-ass tattoo artist with a blind cat at home.
Or you could go with a billionaire who anonymously donates to a children’s center.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
What are the defining elements of your character? Is he a cocky asshole? Or a quiet guy who keeps to himself? Or is she a confident new business owner? Or uneasy about where her life is going because she just got fired?
With each of these characters, balance their strength with a weakness. The cocky asshole had an abusive dad and volunteers at a homeless shelter for women and children to help the kids learn not all men are bad. The guy who keeps to himself is a rock star in private and sings to thousands of people. The new business owner is a disorganized mess. And the woman who just got fired plays roller hockey on the weekends with a name like Punky Bruiser.
The most effective character flaws are not really flaws. They feel like flaws to the main character, but they’re really just new layers to the character that helps make them who they are. Do you see how each of the traits were toned down by the opposite trait? How something that might make them hard to relate to is offset by something that makes them very approachable. Or how someone who seems very down to earth is given a complexity by something they’re hiding.