“And what would you say are your worst qualities?”
It’s the question we all dread when it comes to interviews. Pointing out our flaws to someone whose job it is to scrutinize our character is almost impossible to do honestly.
“I work too hard,”
“I’m such a perfectionist,”
Come on. No one believes the standard answers. If we’re really truly honest with ourselves we’re kind of lazy, we daydream, we’re bad-tempered and snippy, sometimes we’d rather dig our eyes out with a spoon than go to work, we pick our noses, we fart, we’d rather spend a little bit too long in the toilet cubicles than go back to that god awful desk…
I honestly don’t know why interviews bother to ask, because they never get a real answer.
It’s the same with literary characters. We know that to create well-rounded characters we have to come up with flaws. Bad habits make characters more relatable, because none of us are perfect, but it’s all too easy to give the “interview friendly” responses. We love our characters; they’re our babies, and we want readers to love them too!
“My character is deeply flawed. They’re too humble, too kind and adorable, and they have a weird defect whereby they poop solid gold…”
Sure, your readers have to want to spend time with your characters, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be royal pains in the arse from time to time. If anything, when done correctly and balanced with good qualities, it just serves to make your characters more interesting and fun. Readers like to see themselves between the pages, and making your protagonists perfect just makes them seem alien, untouchable, and honestly, dull.
Flawed characters are wonderful!
Take, for instance, that lovable rascal Hannibal Lecter. He’s charming, funny, well-traveled, intelligent, a renowned forensic psychiatrist… oh, and he’s a cannibalistic serial killer. As character flaws go, that one’s a biggie, but I don’t know many people who aren’t captivated by him. Your examples don’t need to be as extreme as chowing down on long pig, but you get the idea. He’s the antagonist of the story, but he’s certainly the most memorable character.
Harry Potter might be the only one who can stop Voldemort, but he’s by no means the most intelligent, or the most perfect student at Hogwarts. He can be arrogant and impulsive, sulky and clueless, and that’s why we love him- because aren’t we all?
The protagonist of my current work in progress is a thief. She can be callous, stubborn, cruel, cowardly, she drinks, swears, and steals. And yet she’s witty, charming, she cares for the people closest to her and will endanger her own life to save them. She’s been through a lot, and putting on the mask of a rotten little shitbag helps hide her vulnerabilities. I absolutely adore her, and simultaneously want to throttle her, and writing her story has been the most fun out of anything I’ve written before.
Look at your friends, your loved ones, and be honest with yourself. Sometimes they drive you absolutely nuts. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it just means that they’re human, and that’s how your characters should be. Maybe you have a friend who is grouchy and hard-faced until you get to know them and realize they actually run a shelter for unwanted puppies and just have little faith in humans anymore? Or someone who won’t spend a penny to do anything nice, because they’ve been financially ruined before and never want to go through that hell again?
A writer’s job is to “collect” interesting people (figuratively speaking- please no kidnappings). Observe the douche-bags, the pushovers, the people who have you rolling your eyes one minute and grinning ear-to-ear the next. Those are the interesting characters. None of us are perfect. We’re deeply flawed diamonds.
For ideas of character flaws I highly recommend Now Novel’s character flaw list:
I’m also on instagram @marielipscombwriting
Thank you for reading if you made it this far, and have fun creating your own beautiful disasters.