None of us like to admit our faults. We’d much rather portray ourselves as cool, confident, and in-control. But the fact remains–it takes weakness to reveal strength. A plant is fragile until it endures the harshness of the elements to form strong roots. A young child is vulnerable until life’s experiences and teachings bring about maturity. Growth stems from weakness.
“For when I am weak,
then I am strong.”
II Corinthians 12:10
The same is true of characters in a novel. A perfect hero/heroine lends to a boring story. After all, who would Scarlet O’Hara be without her sassy, selfish attitude? How could the Wizard of Oz’s cowardly lion gain courage without first knowing fear? How could Tom Sawyer learn the value of honesty and hard work without his scheming, care-free spirit?
Every character needs at least one exposed flaw. Without weaknesses, a character isn’t genuine or true-to-life. If you want characters that leap off the pages at readers, you must define the flaws in your characters. The following steps will help you get started.
When choosing a character’s weakness, it’s important to think about what you wish to accomplish in your story. Is forgiveness your theme? Then perhaps your main character needs to possess an unforgiving attitude. Do you hope to instill spiritual awakening in your readers. Then, at the onset, your character might hold to an unbelieving heart. Whatever flaw/flaws you choose, be certain you have a goal to work toward.
Once you’ve decided on your character’s flaw(s), decide what circumstances will best challenge those weaknesses. What can you throw at him/her to draw out these flaws? When we pray for patience, the Lord doesn’t magically take our impatience away. Instead He places us in situations that require patience. The same is true of novels. The only way our characters will grow is if they are challenged, both internally and externally.
This is where our characters make the conscious decision to master their flaws. They no longer are imprisoned by their failings, but are alert to them, and able to rise above them for their betterment. Readers will connect with imperfect characters who, through the course of the novel, grow and mature out of their frailties. Satisfaction comes in knowing a character has changed for the better.
What are your thoughts on flawed characters? Do they make stories more genuine? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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