Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why do we like imperfect characters?

In stories Imperfection is actually the new perfection. The smudge of imperfection in characters adds an unexplainable and undefinable appeal to the characters. Most popular characters are loaded with imperfection. I personally feel that’s where their attraction lies.

Characters in books mirror real life people. We all have our own individual idiosyncrasies, flaws, shortcomings and insecurities. So it’s nothing unusual if characters reflects these traits. Actually this quality (imperfection) lends reality to a character. Readers find it easy to identify with someone who is imperfect, who makes mistakes and  is swayed by emotions and prone to mood swings; they feel a sense of similarity when they encounter such characters.

Characters who remain calm and unruffled and who never makes mistakes have a falseness attached to them. Though we look upto perfect people, they give us a temporary sense of insecurity.  We feel small in front of them. We may even secretly and subtly resent their perfection and larger than life image. But it’s the imperfect characters we bond with. In their presence we revel in our own imperfections.

Have you all noticed that more and more often our protagonists lead imperfect lives. As the story unfolds, these imperfect characters leading imperfect lives try to resolve the conflict by tackling their own personal imperfections first.

Aristotle called it Hamartia, which was seen as a character flaw. This character flaw can be a limitation, a problem, a phobia, or a deficiency present in a character who is otherwise quite normal. The character flaw may be a violent temper that may turn out to affect the character’s actions, abilities, or interactions with other characters. Sometimes it can be a simple personality defect which only has effect on the character’s motives and social interaction and nothing else.

Flaws or imperfection add depth and humanity to the characters in a narrative. For eg. the mayor with a penchant for gambling, the hero with claustrophobia, the heroine with an alcohol problem, the girl suffering from kleptomania. One of the most famous example is ‘ Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.’

Character flaws can be slotted into three categories.

Minor Flaws make the characters memorable in readers minds, these give the character individuality, but other than that do not affect the story in any way. They can be a scar, an accent, biting the lower lip, twirling the moustache, a girl constantly flinging her hair back. A protagonist can have several minor flaws, each having no effect on the plot.

Major Flaws are noticeable and important. They affect the individual physically, mentally, emotionally, morally or spiritually. Major flaws are not necessarily negative: they can be rigid religious beliefs or a strict adherence to a certain lifestyle. Major flaws like: greed, blindness, deafness, lust, often hamper and restrict the character in one way or the other. The major flaw is important for the character’s personal development and the story. Heroes and heroines must overcome their own major flaws either partially or completely, either temporarily or permanently, at some point in the story, very often by the climax, by sheer determination or skill to be able to solve the larger problem at hand. For a villain his major flaw is frequently the cause of his downfall. The protagonist’s major flaw defines the core problem, the entire journey to remedy this problem forms the firm backbone of the story, sometimes prodding the plot forward.

The last flaw is the Tragic Flaw, it’s the cause of the character’s downfall and eventual death. Tragic Flaw arises out of the character’s misplaced trust in another character, an excessive amount of curiousity that sucks him into problems, pride that plunges him into a world of loneliness. The fall that often arises out of the Tragic Flaw occurs at the beginning of a story.

Do you like perfect characters? Or imperfection is the new perfection for you? What kind of character flaws do your characters have? Do you consciously give your characters imperfect traits?



20 comments:

Rahul Bhatia said...

The imperfections make a complete rounded personality and are like rough edges. Liked your narration and concise words to describe these, Rachna:)

mooderino said...

Excellent post. I'm not always aware of my character's flaw initially. It usually appears the first time they get into a difficult situation.

mood

Lynda R Young said...

I love imperfect characters. They are so much more relatable.
Fabulous post.

Kristen Wixted said...

I have done a lot of thinking about this. You are so right--and it's the tragic flaw that can really lead to a great climax in the end.

Stephen Tremp said...

Nice breakdown of the levels of flaws characters can have. I love using greed for the bad guys as t can drive them to do lots of crazy things they normally would not do.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi friends..though at the begining of each story, I have a faint idea of the imperfections my characters will embrace, the vision becomes clearer as the story progresses and as the drafts pile up. I like or I should say I love imperfect characters.

Robyn Campbell said...

We're all imperfect. So our characters must be also. Our characters have to seem real or the readers will close the book. *waving*

Cherie Larkins said...

Great post! No one likes a Mary Sue (a perfect character) because no one is perfect. Imperfect characters have higher stakes. Also, there wouldn't be character development if the mc was already perfect.

Cheryl Klarich said...

Rachna, I think this is possibly my favorite "Scriptorium" yet! I love characters who are imperfect and misunderstood... it gives the reader a reason to root for the underdog. Though you also don't want the reader to become annoyed; it's a balancing act!!!

Lydia Kang said...

I think in some ways, flaws make them more closer to us. I guess no one really likes a perfect character. It's too boring!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My main character has a lot of past resentment and anger, which gives him incredible drive and an unwillingness to trust. That major flaw is what propels the story in my first book and lends itself to the second one as well.

Medeia Sharif said...

A perfect character wouldn't be believable. I love imperfections. I can relate to them.

Life Unordinary said...

Would you categorize ARROGANCE as major or minor? In most of the romance novels I read (and love) the main character - male is usually arrogant
:

Kenda Turner said...

Fantastic post, Rachna :-) Our characters not only need to seem real, imperfections and all, but there needs to be a base from which their growth comes. Character flaws and imperfections help lay that base, setting the stage for growth and overcoming. You've done a great job describing the process here. Thanks!

Dave King said...

Wonderful post. Much here to reflect on. I tend to like my characters warts and all. I rather think a perfect character would be too predictable.

Donna Hole said...

Well rounded characters are more interesting to read.

......dhole

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Wonderful post. I try to make my characters as "real" as possible, which, of course, means giving them flaws and quirks. I think flawed characters are more fun to hang out with, so this works out well.

bunu tamang said...

lovely post mam...reading your post after long time and also getting to read something like this made my day thanks mam for sharing.....

Karen Lange said...

I like the way you broke this down. I do not care for perfect characters. Nor do I like ones that whine a lot. :)

Naina Gupta said...

Fantastic post, and very true to me. I have always been attracted to reading books where the characters are flawed, or even have a really dark personality.