When I look around it seems that most of the time people are striving for perfection – some more than others. We’re drawn to it. Our definitions of beauty and based on symmetry and flawlessness, we gravitate to squares and circles and symmetry in design, everything is balanced. But the truth is that perfection is also boring.
Back in the day I used to run a fan-fiction writing group in the Star Trek universe. I could always tell the members that weren’t going to last from the character they created: genius Starfleet officers who were the top of their class, good looking, intelligent, brilliant at whatever they turned their hand to. These characters and their writers never lasted because the root of story is conflict and it’s hard to make conflict when your character is so perfect. Conversely my two favourite characters during my time leading the group was the alcoholic doctor and the anti-hero Cardassian. They were interesting because they were screwed up and there were so many stories you could tell because you couldn’t avoid conflict.
However, there is a fine balance to be had. If you’ve ever watched the movie Battleship you’ll know I’m talking about: The main character in that movie, a guy called Hopper, is a huge screw up. At the start of the movie he gets himself arrested breaking into a store to get a burrito for a pretty girl, then we see him getting a dress down (because somehow he has ended up in the Navy) and told he’s close to being kicked out for incompetence, and yet, not only has this guy become a Lieutenant in the Navy he’s also third in command of the ship. It’s just not believable.
To make a flawed character convincing, make it so that they are where they are because of their flaws not inspire on them.
Going back to that alcoholic doctor character, he ended up in our story because of a medical mistake. He had been so overwhelmed by the mistake that he had taken to drinking. He’d retired and run away from his problems and ended up bang in the middle of our story, an alcoholic dealing with his problem having been drafted back into service as a doctor in a crisis. He was there because of his flaws.
So the next time you’re creating a character think about their flaws and imperfections. How have those flaws got them where they are and how might they overcome them in your story.
Happy New Year. May 2017 be filled with writing success and an abundance of learning.