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Creating Flawed Characters

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.
~ Ernest Hemingway

Caricature of Aubrey Beardsley by Max Beerbohm...

Caricature of Aubrey Beardsley by Max Beerbohm (1896)  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The characters we create in our novels must be more than characters. They must be real. If they don’t jump off the page and come alive to the reader, we have failed.

But how do we do that? How do we avoid creating characters that are mere caricatures?

How do we create characters that resound as real to our readers?

We may have the ideal character in mind for our story. What we must guard against is inadvertently creating our character to the point of perfection.

That would be a mistake. A big mistake! The ideal character must also be imperfect. Ideal characters are patterned after real people.

Real people have flaws.

Real people make mistakes.

Real people are imperfect.

If we want our characters to be believable, we must create them flawed. They must make mistakes. They must have imperfections.

People relate to flawed characters because we are all flawed.

As we write and review, we must critique our characters. If we don’t, for sure our readers will! And if they are too perfect? — Then we rewrite.

●  We give them realistic flaws.

●  We give them issues.

●  We don’t give them the ability to deal with every issue.

●  We make them vulnerable.

A too-perfect character? — Been there. Done that.

In the first draft of A Murder UnseenSandra was too perfect. She handled the tragic circumstances thrown at her with near android-like perfection. 

It was so wrong on so many levels. 

The rewriting began. The plot remained, but the humanity of the main character received an overhaul. Though Sandra essentially remained the same, deeper emotions were introduced, insecurities surfaced, and android-like perfection was replaced with the emotional vulnerability of a woman fighting the odds to survive. Sandra became a character that needed the reader on her side.

Face it. None of us are perfect. We don’t need perfect characters. In fact, we don’t want perfect characters. We want characters we can relate to, that inspire us. We want characters that overcome the odds—despite their imperfections and flaws.

If you go away with nothing else, go away with this: The ideal character IS flawed. Our perfect character must be imperfect. 

Comments anyone? I would love to know how you make your perfect character not quite so perfect!

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I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three books: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

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  1. March 28, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Absolutely agree! If the character is too perfect, the book is boring. Even the superhero character has flaws! On the flip side – I was recently reading a book that I put down because the main character had a sexual fling with her brother-in-law. That was too extreme as I think that sort of behavior is despicable. I put the book down, pressed delete. It would have been much better if she had been tempted and maybe approached, hugged, hinted at desire. That would be a mistake and could have added to the struggle of that character.

    • March 30, 2012 at 8:30 am

      I would agree with you there, Karen! That would be too extreme for me. Not what I was leaning towards at all when speaking of flawed characters. Thanks for your input.

  1. April 5, 2012 at 9:56 am

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