Monday, March 19, 2012

Charcter Traits: Flaws and Your Hero

Greetings on this Monday in March. Last Thursday I posted a special edition of Character Traits that I called: How to Make Your Hero Great. In my post I talked a little about character flaws. I will address this a little more today and ask for some help.

What are character flaws and why are they important?

There is no one anywhere on earth who isn't flawed in some way. We are a collection of DNA and experience from the time we are born. If you are born into a family who wants you and loves you it doesn't matter emotionally (at first) how much money they have. If they don't want you but keep you and let you know you aren't wanted on a regular basis you will be flawed by that experience. In either case, money or the lack thereof affects a character depending on several things.
1. What are the ideals at home?
2. What does society think or how does it react to your character?
3. How do his/her peers react to them?

I could list more but these post are designed to get you thinking.


Your character is rich, powerful and a person in high standing in your world. Ask yourself these types of questions to understand your character. Did they grow up knowing they were somebody and how did that translate in their relationships?

My hero in, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, (he is actually a secondary hero), grew up as the heir to the throne. But in Gil-Lael, the attitude of the royal house is that they are servants to the people. So while money is never an issue, responsibility runs deep. He views every thing with an attitude that he must do the best for his people. In real life you would be hard pressed to find an example of any royal family in past centuries with this attitude. Why did I do this? Because I needed a hero not a snob for this critical role. I'm planning a novella to explain more about the royal family and trust me, it will be shown just as it should be and not lectured.

Now lets take the opposite side. Your hero is dirt poor, (cliche) and struggles with every aspect of life while growing up. But they are loved deeply. The issues for this hero may be a deep seeded resentment. Or fear that they will lose everything and thus it makes it difficult for them to stay focused on the task at hand. What's the point? Right. If they will just lose? So decide how absolute poverty affected them. This will be tainted by the country they live in, time period, attitudes of others around them and so on.

Now we will look at the man or woman who was never wanted. Despite this terrible upbringing, deep down they are good people. The first question you must ask yourself about this hero is, how did they survive to be a positive person? Or even a pessimist but still good. Did other relatives interfere and bring stability? Did a friend's mother or father step in and thus become a second family that treasured them for who they were? Did some hidden talent preserve them? Did they find God?

As you see, character development can be tasking. Once you've selected one flaw, you will need two more to make your character three dimensional. What we have discussed above is major, the next two flaws for this character can be minor, woven into the fabric of this hero. Such as fears, jealousy that s/he struggles to contain, bouts of anger, a disability, etc.

How do you write all this? Never with an info dump. You do not want long discourses of the past that the reader must slog through. Instead, show this a little at a time. Prepare a scene with family or friends, act it out in your mind first, what does it feel like, look like, smell like? Does your character get a big hug from mom? Or does she sneer at your character and grunt a hello? Then the second flaw surfaces, perhaps your character has a panic attack or maybe they start to giggle in a ridiculous manner. As you can see, it is all about building your character until they are as real as you want them to be.

I hope this was a help. Now for some help from you. Are you struggling with a specific flaw and how to write it? Let me know and I will address that one too.


DeniseCovey_L_Aussie said...

Yes Nancy wouldn't our stories be boring if the hero didn't have some flaws.

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Hart Johnson said...

Nicely done! You have just pinpointed my only gripe in the characterization of the Harry Potter books, too. Harry was raised unloved and unwanted. And granted, he doesn't care for the Dursleys, but you'd think he'd have a lot more anger or neuroses where they are concerned. I mean sure, there is kindly Mrs. Figg--but he doesn't seem to care for her much until he knows who she is.

My current MC is sort of fast and loose with the truth. She is a PR professional and so sees it as spin or damage control, but I think it is her biggest flaw. She also is a bit of a control freak which fits the kind of person who feels compelled to solve crimes rather than leaving it to the pros. I have side characters though, with some even bigger flaws for the purpose of comedy.

Carolyn V said...

Ugh! I hate the info dump! I'm so glad you mentioned that!

I love having character flaws (and I love reading them). They really help with that development.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

It's amazing how much a character's background and upbringing can affect they way he or she responds. It allows for so many weaknesses to surface. And strengths.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You just have to let it trickle in here and there, letting situations and dialogue reveal the flaws.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Denise
Oh absolutely. We don't read to be bored.

Hi Hart
You bring up a good point about Harry Potter and one that is never addressed in the books. Other than that, the series is brilliant.

Hi Carolyn
Oh yes, me too.

Hi Alex
A little at a time here and there. So true.

Thanks everyone. Each comment is appreciated.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Diane
You got sent to spam instead of the guy advertising pet food. Go figure.

Well put. I agree with your comment.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Excellent post, Nancy. Some wonderful advice here. I really liked the three examples you have given.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Michael
Thanks, I'm always thrilled when someone is helped.

Susan Kane said...

Alex's comment: You just have to let it trickle in here and so well-said. Hints here and there, references, it all gels the character into one who is real and believable.

Jamie Gibbs said...

Excellent advice. I love seeing flaws emerge gradually through the course of the story - a throwaway remark, a change in expression etc.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Susan, I agree.

Hi Jamie


LTM said...

Ahh, thanks for getting the wheels turning for me on this one. I've got a MC who's dirt poor, alcoholic father, extremely religious older brother meeting up with a fellow who's sort of privileged. I'm trying to show how these backgrounds influence who they are and their choices. And of course, there has to be conflict there.

Thanks, girl! :o) <3