For all the writers out there, here is a helpful blog post dedicated to helping you to write the best quality stories. The post “Why Your Novel Characters Need Real Flaws” describes a way to enhance your novel characters and make them more realistic.
The post begins by addressing the definition of real flaws in characters. You’re attempting to make real people out of your imagination and addressing the personality of the characters.
“It’s a flaw that affects those around your character in a significant way, a weakness with serious consequences, not just angst or temporary hurt feelings.”
When you realize a character is forming in your mind, usually it takes a life of its own rather quickly. Filling out a character sheet helps you to figure out the finer points of who a character is, but it takes a lot of time to develop flaws in characters. Unless it’s a villain, we don’t want our characters to have things wrong with them. We want them to be good and overcome their flaws without too many obstacles. We don’t want them to have negative personality traits that make them unlikable. When you allow your character to do bad things, the reader doesn’t necessarily agree and want to continue reading. You’re faced with the task to either be true to the story (what the character wants to do) and making the reader happy. Ideally, you want to achieve both, which creates a good story from good writing.
Sometimes it helps to have someone show you what makes a good character. By reading other writers, it helps you understand how they develop good characters or bad ones. If you can believe and relate to a character, it usually means that the flaws in the character are realistically written. The post goes on to explain the difference between cosmetic flaws (that writers tend to write) and real flaws that make characters like real people.
Every cosmetic flaw is a victimless half of the real flaw it replaces. Here are two examples:
Cosmetic character flaw: Insecurity. Its real counterpart: envy and sabotage
Cosmetic character flaw: Fearfulness. Its real counterpart: disloyalty under pressure
The cosmetic flaws are petty things. Things that writers think will give the character a realistic personality, but it actually creates an illusion of real flaws. Being “politically correct” or “sugar-coating” the problem masks what is really underneath. They might seem like a nice way to put a flaw so that it doesn’t hurt the reader, but it doesn’t make the character more realistic. The writer is playing God and sticking a mask on the character that wasn’t supposed to be there.
The question the writer of the blog poses is which flaws create good writing. If you want to write fiction that doesn’t affect its readers, write with cosmetic flaws. If you want your writing to create a reaction from the readers that changes their lives, you use real flaws. To put it simply, real is better than fake. Fiction may be created from the imagination, but it comes from the truth of the world around us. We need to tap into the emotions and basics of truth to build the story on. If we use characters that the reader feels are real, the fictional parts of the story are handled with ease.
I immediately felt a need to assess my characters after reading this post and it ultimately changed my mind on character development. I knew that I needed to work on the flaws of a character so the reader accepts my stories better. I was able to focus on what I thought the flaws were in my main character, and change it to create a person rather than just a flat character.
What struggles do you have with characters? Is it in their flaws or in their actions?