As a reader, you’ll find your favourite characters are flawed. We like to recognise ourselves and in life we know that nobody is perfect. Flaws are endearing and make a character more interesting. With Pride and Prejudice, the clue is in the title, yet we love Darcy and Lizzy.
Snape in the Harry Potter books is the most complex of JK Rowling’s characters, yet one of the most popular. We are fooled into seeing Snape as a villain, and he is vindictive to Harry, though he protects him. We understand when we learn about his relationship with Harry’s parents, and in the final book we get the truth. This makes him fascinating.
Your main character doesn’t have to be this complex, but does need flaws we can recognise. It makes the reader empathise and identify more strongly. At heart, any hero is good and true, but we don’t want him boringly perfect.
He will make mistakes, take wrong turns, lose his cool when he should be in control, upset people and generally muddle through.
Take Indiana Jones, who says, “I’m making it up as I go!” He’s also afraid of snakes. James Bond can’t be trusted with Q’s gadgets, he disobeys orders, runs into trouble, and can’t leave women alone. But both heroes pull it off against the odds when it matters because, like most people, they are good guys trying to do the right thing. That’s why your reader loves them.
So how do you give your character flaws? Here are a few ideas.
Give him a bad habit: swearing, smoking or drinking – though he’s trying to give up or stop.
Give him a weakness: hunger makes him hunt for pizza, or he can’t pass up a doughnut or coke and therefore shows up where he shouldn’t and at the wrong moment.
He’s grouchy because he can’t operate until he’s had coffee in the morning, strong sunshine gives him a headache, or dark nights make his eyes hurt.
Physical defects could make him defensive and tough to get along with: a limp slows him down; a facial scar is embarrassing; a tattoo gives him away.
Bad events in his past are equally effective: losing someone, getting bullied at school, beaten up by foster parents.
Any of these things will cause him to make mistakes and do the wrong thing – an excellent way to give him more problems.
There’s a clever twist you can spin on your hero’s flaw. Most of the time, the flaw gets in the way or puts him at risk. But just once, you can turn it on its head and make it the very thing that saves his bacon.
The cigarette hits the petrol trail and blows up the enemy. Pizza slams into the villain’s face. Tin of coke over the head knocks the baddie out. Hero is grouchy enough to turn and fight instead of escaping. He’s slow with the limp and finds a clue he would have missed. You get the picture?
Kids are going to pick this up readily, because, being mischievous themselves, they love baddies. So a hero who is a bit of a baddie on the side is going to appeal. Set them on the path with some of the ideas above, and they are likely to get creative and run with them.
Now you know how to give characters flaws, but does anything else in the world of education leave you baffled? If so, you might want to take a look at our Knowledge Bank page. We have articles on all aspects of schooling which aim to answer the questions parents want to ask. Not only do we have info on education, you’ll also find advice on parenting which could help to keep your child happy, confident and safe. Why not check it out?
Guest Blog by Elizabeth Bailey
Coming from professional theatre, Elizabeth Bailey taught drama for many years alongside her writing career. Multi-published, she now writes full time, both her own novels and ghostwriting, as well as critiquing for other writers.