Check out the latest great piece by Benjamin Cheah, readers!
How to Create Believable Character Flaws
Conventional wisdom states that characters should be flawed. Nobody can relate to perfect people. Flawed characters are more believable, more likely to gain the reader’s sympathies. But the conventional wisdom doesn’t teach how.
In the hands of lesser writers, this usually manifests as a grab bag of random negative traits. Alcoholism, smoking, minor but not debilitating mental illness, snarkiness, cynicism. Poorly handled, these traits add flavor to the story but they do not significantly influence the characters, and therefore do not influence the plot. The result is a patchwork person, a collection of traits and behaviors sewn together and little else.
The best characters have integrity. Their thoughts, emotions and actions flow organically from their personality traits, skills and experience. ‘Strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’ are interpretations of these thoughts, emotions and actions within context. The most profound and believable strengths and weaknesses come from skills and virtues taken to the extreme.
To examine this, let’s look at superhero fiction. In this genre, heroes and villains are larger than life. Their powers elevate them above the masses. Everything they do is big and dramatic and visible, both to the reader and to everyone in the story world. Characters use their powers in accordance with their backstory, experience, skills and personalities. To understand a superhero, we must see who and what he is.
In my superhero series A Song of Karma, Adam Song is a hero with many powers for the price of one. Able to amplify his biological functions, he can boost his speed, reflexes, strength, stamina, senses. He may not be as powerful as a Prime with a single dedicated superpower, but he is far more flexible.