Fiction Writing: Creating Character Flaws

In honor of the super-exclusive offer for Men with Pens readers only in regards on the Gamer Lifestyle Course, we’re turning our attention in this latter half of the special fiction week towards how to write realistically in fantasy worlds.

If you’ve missed the first posts in this special fiction writing series, you can read them here:

Day One: How to create a believable character
Day Two: How to create a setting for your story.
Day Three: How to create plot
Day Four: How to get serious and make money from fiction writing

Today, we’re tackling a topic that has plagued fantasy writers and gamers for eons (or, you know, since gaming became popular): Is your character TOO awesome?

Is There Such a Thing As Too Awesome?

Yes, I’m afraid there is. This is mostly common among beginner fiction writers and gamers, but let’s give you the skinny. Many people get into story writing and gaming because they want to invent a character that is just like them – only cooler.

Way cooler.

They give their character the body they’ve always wanted and a bunch of talents they wish they had. They make their character strong and powerful and generous and benevolent and give him the will to do anything for the ones he loves and also secretly a DRAGON, because dragons are so cool, oh and he can fly too, and he can go through walls, and, and, and . . .

You get the idea.

So yes, there is such a thing as too awesome. This is one of the reasons Superman annoyed the hell out of everyone until there was Kryptonite. Not so with Batman. Batman had his anguished past, he could get hurt, and he did get hurt. You felt for Batman.

But Superman? Bullets literally bounced off the guy. Maybe you admired him, but there’s no way you sympathized with him.

Here’s the other thing: No one ever believed Superman was real.

Batman could actually be real. He was just a normal millionaire who worked out a lot and had a bunch of cool gizmos. Without the weird fetish for dressing up as a bat (which showed a serious psychological weirdness that made him human), he could’ve been James Bond. He was just a guy who became awesome by the sweat of his own brow.

Superman became awesome because . . . Well, because he was just awesome, okay? He came in the package that way.

You see the problem.

This is why people became attached to Batman in a way that they didn’t with Superman. Batman had flaws. You could judge Batman’s actions, and sometimes you weren’t at all sure he was a nice guy. He was confusing. He was often stupid, or misinformed, or just plain wrong.

He was human.

Even If Your Character Is an Elf, He’s Still Human

No matter what kind of character you’re writing about, you still need your readers to feel a connection to that character, or they’re not going to give a goddamn what happens to him. Your readers will feel pretty much the same way they did about Superman when he was in a potentially dangerous situation:

“Eh, he’ll get through it. He’s Superman. Nothing can hurt him.”

And they simply won’t care.

Think about Batman potentially doing something really stupid because he has issues about his parents. He could DIE. You have to know – do his flaws get the better of his virtues? Does he do that really stupid thing? Does he battle inwardly and do the right thing after all, even if it nearly KILLS him?

That’s the kind of tension you want for your character. You want your readers to wonder if his flaws will outshine his virtues this time. You want readers to wonder if this is the day your character’s flaws actually destroy him.

That’s not possible unless you .

How to Give Your Character Flaws

The flaws you give your character don’t have to be blatantly obvious flaws. You don’t need to give him a crippled limb or blindness or a really lousy history with his parents. You don’t need to kill everyone he’s ever known or give him a traumatic sexual past.

You just need to make your character human. Even if he’s not.

We all have human flaws. We have short tempers, or we eat too much, or we get whiny when we’re tired. We’re a little selfish when it comes to sharing. We’re prone to panic in tough situations. We’re overly critical. We hate staying up past midnight. We sulk when we’re insulted.

All of these things are small, but imagine them in a real life-or-death situation. Suddenly they become flaws that can truly result in someone’s destruction.

What if your character was supposed to guard a prisoner, but he got offended by a companion and ended up marching off into the woods after an argument? That prisoner gets away and KILLS SOMEONE SO HE CAN ESCAPE.

Your character’s sulking just got someone killed.

It’s a human mistake. It could happen to anyone who didn’t realize this stupid little flaw could have dire consequences in this situation.

So let it happen.

Ready to Rock Your Story?

Yesterday we told you about an amazing course designed to teach you how to live the Gamer Lifestyle and make money through your love of fiction. If you’ve been reading our special fiction writing series and just dying to try your fantasy-writing britches on for size, you should seriously check it out.

You’ll discover how to live, breathe, and damn it, earn a living doing the kind of writing you love best.

The Gamer Lifestyle is a fantastic course with two iron-clad guarantees, one-on-one experts right there for you, and literally months’ worth of modules and training courses. Check out our article on it, or click here to head straight to the Gamer Lifestyle Website and sign up.

Oh, have we mentioned the course is an exclusive offer for MwP readers only? It’s open for signups now – but only for just 48 more hours. Better hurry.

Post by Taylor

Taylor Lindstrom (fondly known as Tei) is a twenty-something copywriter and journalist from Boulder, CO. She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club. She loves the color green, micro-point Uniball pens, and medieval weaponry.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. There are actually several places online where you can do a Mary Sue Litmus Test in order to make sure that your characters aren’t too awesome.

    Here are three that I’ve used:
    The Writer’s Mary Sue Test
    The Original Fiction Mary Sue Litmus Test
    The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test

    The last one is the only one that provides a section for fan fiction and RPG characters; the other two are pretty much exclusively original fiction.

    It’s a good way to get an objective look at your characters, and get an idea if you’ve made them just too darn awesome.

  2. I’m really loving this series! Great job!

    I totally agree with you. I’ve always liked characters that have problems. It helps you identify with them. Great post!

  3. Whadya mean Supes doesn’t have a weakness? Kryptonite, man!

    But that’s the problem. The only villains that can do anything to him are ones that cater to his very limited list of weaknesses: kryptonite (and does that ever get old fast), magic (to an extent… they got that from Captain America, right?), and Lois Lane.

    It may seem like a not-fun thing to have to flaw one’s characters, but there’s so much more room for mischief when your character’s conflicts can be caused by a spectrum of problems.

    Great post, Taylor!

  4. This is excellent advice–I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I’ve edited that suffered from “Superman Syndrome.” God they’re boring.

    However, I don’t think your advice goes quite far enough, so I responded on my own blog: how to make character flaws work on multiple levels:

    http://www.plottopunctuation.com/blog/show/42

    Enjoy!

Trackbacks

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  4. […] Lindstrom wrote a great post for the Men With Pens blog (one of my favorites) in which she asked readers to consider the role of the character flaw for […]

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