Sunday, September 13, 2009

Character in Your Character

Hero as a label for the main character of a story is somewhat misnomered, or at least overrated in my opinion. The word hero implies someone with outstanding abilities, almost perfect in every way, even someone who doesn't include "mistake" in their vocabulary. "Nonsense!" I say. Who wants a main character with no possibility of error? With no chance of conflict? Or problems? There wouldn't be much of a plot with no conflict, no problems to solve, and no resolution. Besides, I need to relate to the main characters I'm reading about. Human flaws are essential as a part of that. And we as readers develop empathy for these flawed human beings. We cheer them on and hope they overcome their challenges.

So, what does all this mean to you as a writer? Well, during that constructive stage of your story, when you begin to mold your characters --who they are and what they will attempt to do, you should also think about what makes him or her human. It might be a weakness that's physical or emotional. Or perhaps it is something that has happened in his or her life that leaves the character frightened or conflicted. As the character moves through events in the story, trying to achieve his or her goal and confronting the conflict presented by the antagonist, the one with human flaws will have a greater challenge. Without flaws, the "perfect hero" would find the road ahead simple to travel. But we don't want the journey to be simple. That would be like watching our favorite team play their biggest rival, and the game ends up being a total blowout. No excitement in that, is there?

Remember: fiction portrays life and life is made up of humans. So, characters, in order to be human, should be flawed. It makes sense to me. I hope it makes sense to you.

This posting is brief, but it seemed worth stating. And if anyone has anything to add, I welcome your comments and words of wisdom :-)

P.S. A bit of advice I just picked up over on Coffee Shop discussion board from John....use your own flaws as a starting point. They are the ones you are most familiar with and might help create some pretty fantastic characters!


plainolebob said...

some good advice, thanks.
i have only been writing for 5 weeks, and realize i have much to learn. i liked you idea about the tape thing,but i get lost doing anything. like i said never ever wrote anything before, just having fun telling my stories.
thank-you so much for everything

Hunter said...

There are some good character questionnaire templates available online for creating character bios. When writing longer pieces of fiction, I've found they help you to think of your main characters as being more multidimensional, flaws and all.

(Here's a link )

Thanks for the post.

Meili_Lo said...

nobody's perfect... imperfection is something permanent ;D

anyway, saw you in the one minute writer and i liked what u wrote in today's prompt... hope to hear your thoughts in my blog.



teacherwriter said...

Meili_Lo.... I'm checking your blog and have added it to my list :-) I will be back for a closer look later on.

And yes, no one gets to be perfect, but that's fitting since there is also no perfect world in which to live... Imagine. A perfect person would get so impatient with all the mistakes going on around him/her :-/

teacherwriter said...

Hunter... very informative site. Thank you for sharing it and your comments.

Innocent Owner of Mad Cats said...

Thank you for the great advice. Having not written anything for over 20 years, i've forgotten more than I remember. I find your site very helpful.

Vanessa Rogers said...

I really like characters that you almost don't know what to think of. Like Scarlet in Gone with the wind. There were moments I hated her and thought she was so malicious and other moments when I sympathized. Characters that are dynamic are the most intriguing and the most worth writing about.

teacherwriter said...

Vanessa... That is so true. If a character is too predictable, too flat/one-dimensional, they are just too boring!

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