Writers are human beings. With the exception of any NSA parsing programs or Google search generators or the like, readers tend to be human beings, too. And something that all human beings have in common is that they’re flawed. I’m sure some pundits and others would disagree, but every person on the face of the planet makes mistakes. As a writer, if you want your audience to relate to the characters in the story you write, your characters should have flaws, too.
A character with flaws is more believable, and it’s easier for the audience to sympathize with them as they can see their own struggles in the words and depictions, and exalt with the characters when they succeed (if they succeed). A ‘perfect’ character is a lot more difficult for people to relate to, and it’s a problem you can see in a lot of fiction out there. I’m sure you can think of some examples.
By way of examples of flawed characters, let’s look at Steve Rogers.
I know what you’re thinking. “Captain America? Flawed? He’s a super soldier! He’s a good person and a nice guy! How is he flawed?” His old-fashioned sensibilities make him relatively humble and willing to help people out, for certain, but he isn’t perfect. Those same thought patterns, habits, and viewpoints are out of sync with the modern age. In holding onto those aspects of himself, Steve shows that he can be a bit stubborn, even bull-headed, in the face of change and personalities that clash with his. He has a few moments in The Avengers where he has it out with Tony Stark, and if the previews for The Winter Soldier are to be believed, his optimistic view of how things should be is going to get him into a heap of trouble.
The thing I like about Cap’s flaws is that they’re surmountable. They open avenues for change. The great thing about organic, human characters is that they are not limited to a single arc. The problem with a lot of sequels is that they extend the story but do nothing for their characters. A good writer knows that keeping their characters from achieving perfection by the end of one story leaves the door open for future tales with the same characters. I’m a big fan of subtle sequel hooks, and these are some of the best ones a writer can employ. So the more flaws you can find in your characters, the better the experience will be both for your writing and for those who choose to read it.
What are some of your favorite characters with flaws? What’s a good example of a character overcoming a flaw but having others left to challenge them in stories to come?