Why You Need Character Flaws

Character quirks (or personality flaws) are essential for any great story and many writers struggle with this concept.

(Don’t worry, I’ve been in that special club, too. I promise.)

But you need people to be different, authentic and real.

Without real characters, there is no story.

People aren’t perfect and I like to find someone that is. Until then, I’m not going to believe a story where the heroine does no wrong, can fight justice and never had something bad happen to her. Most decide to fight crime or even be a knight for a reason, not just because it’s the new cool thing.

Your characters are people. They have a life and a story of their own. That’s the whole point you’re writing the story, right?! (I’m hoping that’s why, otherwise you should be re-evaluating your story.)

Having characters to just simply be killed or no story of their own (no matter how minor) is going to upset your readers.

(Or your editor. Yes, don’t do that. Please. I beg you.)

Readers invest in characters that they associate with. If they understand a situation that they may have been in, still be involved with, or have overcome said situation, they’re likely to read for that particular character. Writing about Mary Sue who has every power under the sun will not win brownie points with your readers. This’ll most likely upset them and you’ll be out a reader or more.

So, let me explain how you want to create a believable character with flaws.

Usually, I find writers come across this problem after their first few drafts. Maybe betas will like one character more than someone else, or hate the person YOU are rooting for. How I found out was people liked my antagonist more than my protagonist. That spoke volumes and called for major re-evaluation.

But the discussion about Aviere’s brother was the turning point in this little epiphany, not about Travis. (My roommate and I are betting which character readers will like more, considering Travis was his idea. Aviere’s my brainchild.)

Limere was created for one purpose in the original draft. His first scene was a self sacrifice scene, so I knew he was meant to die at some point in the series. But because of that, I didn’t WANT to think of a story for him. He was secondary. Why should he be important?

(I should have never said that, thinking about it – but it ended up okay.)

A rewrite was evident at that point anyway. Book two is about Limere’s secret that he’s kept for ten years. A drug he’s made to help him with his telepathic powers hits the streets and people start dying. When it’s stolen, he clams up and tries to book it out of town.

His stepfather forces him to teach his agent (Travis) about his powers, because he doesn’t want him to die.

So now that he can’t leave the city, Limere’s guilt eats away at him.

As I’m writing this, I wondered how this happened, considering I had no story for him. I found myself liking him and I really wanted to hate this bastard. He was meant to die. I didn’t want to invest in him. I wanted every character to hate him so he was easier to kill.

Ladies and gentlemen, my reasoning was the stupidest thing I’ve ever written. But I swear, it was true. I was laughed at, said this reason sucks and told to redraft.

Every character is a person. As such, every character has to have one person in their corner, if it’s a baddie. Why would people follow and believe in a person if they didn’t like them? It’s unrealistic for everyone to hate someone (but yet there are a few examples I can give). And there was one other question I needed to answer.

WHY did people in my universe still like Limere?

Aviere has a fierce love for her brother, but realistically, there was no reason why. It was just a “just because” sort of issue. Celine’s stuck with him for ten years. Either the guy’s got to be giving good sex (which when you’re on drugs, is pretty much not going to happen), or she cares because something happened to the guy.

You do not want “just because”  or “cool” reasons.  This is wishy washy and a good way to make your characters crappy.

So I went to work and redrafted him.

It took me quite a bit to do this. I knew a few things already.

1. He does not like cops.
2. His telepathic powers far outweigh Travis’s, to the point he can create forcefields and read people’s heads.
3. Maurice really hates him but Limere wants him back in his life.
4. Limere’s best friend Reggie died years ago and he’s looking after the girl he married – but she hates Aviere.
5. He has a problem he’s solving alone, but experiments with drugs.
6. His mother had a terminal illness, which passed to his sister at birth.
7. He’s Aviere’s stepbrother and hates Aviere’s father passionately.
8. He doesn’t have the heart to stop using drugs on his own.
9. He’s good at helping Aviere with the family business but hates that he can’t hold a conventional job due to his problem.

Common emotions or reactions: evasive, flighty, guilty, overburdened, sneaky, omits information, runs at first sign of police. Can be confrontational when needed but usually if it’s over the two women in his life: Aviere or Celine.

Likes: junk food, marijuana (he refers to it as mary jane), horror movies, sex, racing (not as much as his sister, though).

Dislikes: his powers, Jemina, processed lunch meat (bologna), cops, Dominic, being too responsible and pop songs. Not too fond about working unless it’s on his terms.

What is his point in series: ??

Okay, now there’s some stuff I could work with. But I needed a defining moment as a reason why people should care about him. If he is a focal point in the second book, he need to stand out more in book one, just as Maurice should in two as well. So I went back again. In the first 10 chapters, he’s only mentioned once and then he sort of runs away. He is there more later, but his character’s not fleshed out.

So now, I knew what I needed to do.

This time, I was asked to do a character development story. I encourage everyone to do one of these if you’re stuck because you can work out so much. I need to do one on Maurice in the next month or two, because the feedback I got from this story was that he had no voice. So I worked out my issue with Limere, clearly.

Two things happened when I thought about it:

1. He was a shifter who somehow gained telepathic powers, in exchange for his original abilities.
2. He’s been trying to reverse the process + trying to find the woman responsible for this. However, the only way to combat his headaches is through the use of making drugs, which is the family business.

So now there was a why. There was more clarity in his character building process.

There needed to be one final thing: What moment caused him to turn into who he is in book one?

The answer came while I wrote his narrative.

 

excerpt

 

Every character has a moment in time that changes their perspective forever on life.

This makes a character who they are. For Limere, it was the night a man tried to kidnap his sister and he realized how helpless he was. It is not written here because it’s in book two, but his friends took him to a bar and he encountered a sorceress who cursed him with his telepathic powers. Because he felt guilty that he told no one, he’s hid the secret in shame and slowly starts to go crazy.

I’m not saying that you need to make someone’s story so traumatic that they’re not the same. Some people have happy moments that define them. I just don’t write happy fiction. The experiences I’ve had in life give me a unique perspective on characterization.

Maybe one day, I’ll have a happy character. Until then, I’ll keep plugging away at my series and dark fiction.

In the meantime, you can download a tutorial I made on the subject. 🙂

download here.

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