Friday, June 19, 2015

Why Imperfect characters work?

Imperfection is actually the new perfection. Imperfect characters have an undefinable appeal. The bad boy next door with the two day stubble is endearingly sexy. So is the kick ass heroine who loves putting people in their place. Or the bratty child living in the neighbourhood.
Perfect characters come across as boring, make us feel insecure and small in front of them. Imperfect characters are more real. We identify with their imperfections, idiosyncrasies, shortcomings, emotional outbursts and mood swings.
Have you all noticed that our protagonists often 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: 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 affect the character’s actions, abilities, or interactions with other characters. 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. One of the most famous example is 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 characters individuality, but other than that don’t 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 aren’t 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 Imperfect characters? What kind of character flaws do your characters have?




14 comments:

  1. Love how you break down character flaws. I hadn't thought of the tragic flaws that way before.

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  2. I probably don't use enough minor flaws. But my characters certainly have enough major ones.

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  3. I'm at present coping with an imperfect character who is the hidden villain, first time I've tried to write a 'who dun it' and it is very hard work, Rachna.

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  4. I don't think I've ever managed to write a perfect character. It makes the story feel more realistic when they've got flaws. Like Alex, I probably don't use minor ones enough - I like your list, it's given me some ideas.

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  5. Imperfect, or even silly characters, are a great material for comedy writing. Or sprinkling humor here and there in the novel. In novels, like in life, I feel characters should never be perfect. Perfection is possible only in Indian movies :)

    Destination Infinity

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  6. Thanks for this discussion. I hadn't thought about in this way before.

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  7. Good points, Rachna. It would be hard to create an interesting novel if the characters had no flaws. That would not only be unrealistic but very boring. In my latest book, Dead Wrong, my main character makes unwise decisions when under pressure. If she has time to think things through, she does better, but circumstances often make that impossible..

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  8. I agree, flaws lend depth and interest to our characters, and in turn, our stories. Thanks for breaking this down for us!

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  9. Imperfect characters are definitely usually more enjoyable to read. Although one person's imperfection could be another person's perfection. I enjoyed the breakdown in flaws. I hadn't thought too much about minor ones before, even though my characters have them.

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  10. Good post. I find that it often helps me to think of a flaw, then build a character around it. It's easier than doing things the other way around:)

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  11. Wonderful list. I don't think I've used the tragic flaw except in a manuscript from my early writing days.

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  12. Great post! I definitely prefer flawed characters. Like you said, it's just human. My MC eats souls to survive, though she goes for scumbags instead of innocents, so that's a major flaw :) She also has a bit of a temper and trust issues and talks a lot of smack.

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  13. I agree - characters who're too perfect aren't believable or particularly likeable.

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