You’re writing fiction, and you realize that there’s something missing. Your characters are all nice, pleasant people. In other words, they’re boring.
They need flaws. We talked about your main character’s flaws in this article, and suggested that if you have two main characters, you give them complementary flaws:
“Try to make your main characters and their flaws complementary. Consider the characters of David Huxley and Susan Vance in the old movie, Bringing up Baby. David’s a calm scientist, Susan is energetic and confident. They’re pretty much opposites – he’s struggling for money, she’s wealthy, and so on.”
When your characters are too nice…
Nice characters are annoying to readers, who promptly stop reading. So you know that you need to make your perfect characters less perfect, because no one’s perfect.
You love your characters, however, and you don’t want them to look like nasty people. You give them silly little faults, which end up being humblebrags: “Samantha’s new Christian Louboutins hurt her feet, but she wore them anyway.”
You justify this to yourself. Vanity’s a flaw, isn’t it? Yes it is. As long as the character’s vanity has a purpose in your story. If you’re writing Samantha as a ditzy bitch who uses her looks to advance her career, you’re doing well. Kudos. 🙂
Here’s the thing about writing characters. If you can’t see any character faults you hate in yourself, you’ll have problems writing characters who excite and intrigue readers. You’ve got to pay attention to what you dislike about yourself, and use what you find.
Recall that fiction is all about emotion. We said:
“Fiction writing is all about emotion. If you don’t feel anything, your characters won’t and your readers won’t. They’ll toss your book into the trash, or delete it from their Kindle, because they feel nothing — they’re not entertained.”
What do you hate in yourself?
’Psychotherapist David Richo notes, “Our scared and arrogant ego has an enormous capacity not to know itself.”
’He goes on to quote Jung: “The shadow is the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious…”
Admitting that you’re not perfect is HARD. If you hate something in yourself, and are aware of it, that’s wonderful… it means you’re human, and you can use that in your fiction. However, we can only see those parts of ourselves that we haven’t suppressed.
We all have the potential for evil. We’re human.
To create wonderful characters, embrace what you hate in yourself, and in others. Use it
In one of my current pieces of fiction, my main character is lovely — she’s everything that’s proper, and kind, in a female of her era. She’s a sheltered young woman, newly married, living in Georgian London. However, she’s thoroughly rebellious in her thoughts. She has to be. Readers, remember. If my character were inwardly as sweet as she acts, readers would stop reading.
Outwardly she’s sweet. And of course, her sweetness doesn’t last (it can’t, if I want readers to keep reading.) She runs up a huge gambling debt, and tries to hide it from her husband. That’s what she would do, because she’s written that way.
How to embrace your dark side
If you’ve got a character who’s too perfect, you’ll need to find ways to make your character more interesting.
I like to think about my current fictional characters when I’m dropping off to sleep. Usually, I’ll wake up with an idea for a flaw or two I can inflict on a character.
When all else fails, I think about the seven deadly sins. 🙂 What with sloth, envy, pride, and the rest, there’s lots of ways you can shake up your characters when you embrace your dark side.
Have fun. Work with your unconscious, and you’ll create some wonderfully flawed (and interesting) characters.
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