Monday 11 March 2019

Character Flaws - The Creative Process


Something you learn when writing is that no character is perfect. They can't be, because they're, generally, human, and no human is perfect. Part of creating a well-rounded character is giving them flaws that set them off from being the perfect person ever. It's something you notice if, like me, you've spent a lot of your time people watching and creating characters based on faces and actions from those around you. Everyone has flaws and every character has at least one distinct thing that they do wrong or differently to any one else. It's part of the creative process, but it's not something I've touched on before. So today, I'm going to tell you all about character flaws and why they matter in your story.

I don't know about you guys, but the first thing I usually have when creating a character is a name and an idea of what they look like. I know a lot of writers who struggle with the first but always have a good idea of the second. I've been known to troll baby name sites, but in actuality making up names comes pretty easy for me. So once I have that down, I'll start thinking about how they are. I don't always know much about them as a character until I start writing, start finding their voice and such, because I'm a hybrid and that's how I do things (pieces found here and here).

However, I can tell you a few bits and pieces about how I work out what flaws need to apply to each character and how they're not set in stone. Because I do a lot of my character discovery through writing, it's easier for me to pants the majority of it and then tighten things up in revision and edits. But I do have a five-step plan for working out what things they may or may not do and how I get that to translate into tangible flaws. So buckle up, we're going in!


By this I mean, are they helping the protag or are they actively working against them. Of course no character is one hundred percent bad or good, but asking myself this can give me a good idea as to whether or not they fit the mould for someone who will be helping, or someone who will do whatever they can to put roadblocks in the way of the main plot. Once I have that decided, I can work out the rest. That's not to say that characters don't change sides, because sometimes they do, and sometimes as I'm writing them I realise that I actually have it wrong and it works better if they switch from one side to the other, or even remain indifferent to the plot.

In other words, are they honest? Would they be the kind of person to self-sacrifice at whatever cost it may be? Are they going to stand by their words or are they wishy-washy and just wanting to please whoever is in front of them? Do they want to be well-liked or could they not care one iota who likes them or not? Do they find making friends easy? Do they have personal struggles that may not get mentioned in the story itself, but do play a part in their characterisation? Do you they want the same things as other characters and if not, why not? All of these are questions that can be asked and not all of them will have answers, but the idea is to have a general idea about who they are as a person.

I'm asking myself this because if they're the kind of person who stands by what they say and do, is there anything that would cause them to change that stance? And if there is, what is it and does it come into the story at all? If it's something that can only be reached by high stakes, do I want to put them in that position and see exactly how they react. A lot of the time, this is stuff that won't come up in the story itself, but will give me hints to their flaws and make up. It'll give me a starting point and allow me to move onto the next step.

Here's where you get to do a lot more creating. It depends from writer to writer just how much detail you go into here. Personally I have run the gamut of doing a whole load to barely anything. It really just depends on both the character and their role in the story. For example, a main character is going to get a bigger workup than someone who's only in one chapter and doesn't play a bit part. It's of course, dealer's choice, because for some people this is where they really feel like they get to know the character well, and that's okay. I will put a caveat here about not going completely tragic for every character. While yes, there should, may, will, be some that have a very tragic backstory, it's not the case for everyone and it needs to make sense for both the individual character and their part in your story. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

There's something to be said for this final one. In all my years of making characters, I've come across some in my own work, and in other works of fiction where I've felt like the flaws don't match the character themselves. Yes, they are a creation of the author, but you have to have things balanced out and matching. You need to make sure that you don't just pile on the flaws for the bad guy and leave the good one without any, or some that barely seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. So this final checkpoint is a way for me to go back over the other four points and make sure that I've not skipped a step along the way. It's saved me from some big mistakes in my writing.

So those are my five ways of working out character flaws. As I said, all characters have them to some degree and if yours don't, then you might need to start thinking about why, and how to change that. No one is perfect, and no character should be either. Good luck!

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