Writing Imperfect Characters

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Fiction writers create entire worlds in their heads, which can be overwhelming. Outlining, writing, editing, rewriting, proofreading. . .It’s a lot of work! 

That’s why so many authors turn to our big-picture editing services for help with their manuscripts. If you’re having a hard time developing your characters or are facing a major writer’s block (it happens to the best of us), keep reading to learn more about what makes an imperfectly perfect character.

Too good to be true

No one is perfect, and that’s a good thing; imperfections are what make fictional characters more believable, relatable, and lovable. If yours are too perfect, readers will have a hard time empathizing with or understanding them. When you’re writing, it’s easy to focus on your characters’ strengths and virtues, but it’s also important to find their weaknesses and flaws. Otherwise, you’ll be left with shallow, one-dimensional characters no one will like. Deeply flawed characters are more intriguing to readers, and intriguing characters are an essential part of any great story. 

Weaving your characters’ shortcomings into their histories and personalities will make them more interesting and convincing to the reader, who is more likely to have an emotional response to a flawed protagonist than to someone who comes off as too perfect. Also, it is important to ensure that your character’s flaws are believable. For instance, it makes sense for an ambitious person to be ruthless in their pursuits. Readers will buy this flaw, and it will help round out the character.

Character flaws are human flaws

So, what exactly are character flaws? They’re usually what either makes a character stand out or hinders their potential or chances of achieving their goals. Flaws are an integral part of every character. Consequently, it’s important to know your characters deeply to understand where they’re coming from and why they act the way they do so that you can embed these weaknesses into the story itself. But where do you go for inspiration?

You can find flaws anywhere you look—in yourself and others, literature, TV, politics—but it’s essential to consider which faults are compatible with your characters, your premise, and your narrative. As you fill our fictional worlds with vivid details and evocative imagery, you must also think about how these external factors can affect and be affected by your characters. 

Is your character short-tempered? Cheap? Selfish? Judgmental? Obnoxious? Perpetually late? Or are their flaws more deeply-rooted in their moral code, issues that have taken them down a path of crime and violence, for example? Is it the thing that always ends up getting them into trouble? Is it something that will result in their eventual downfall? Whatever flaws you choose will make your characters who they are. 

Flaws can help motivate a character and move your plot forward in several ways. If a character is inherently selfish, for instance, they may betray others in order to get what they want. This could create good conflict in your story and force other characters to react.

Emotional connections

There’s a vast spectrum of humanity to learn from, but these details, the flaws that make your characters unique, have to speak to you and your story first. If you’re connected to your characters, your readers will be, too. Keep in mind that your audience doesn’t have to like all of your characters. On the contrary, if you have written a villain whom your readers hate, you have done your job! Thus, flawed characters are nothing to eschew; in fact, they will make your story all the richer.

As a writer, you aim to connect with readers through emotion, not only description, which is why character development is one of the most important aspects of writing engaging fiction. So, whatever your protagonist’s greatest flaw is—emotional, mental, physical, or moral—it must be coherent and serve the story in one way or another. 

If you have a draft ready but still need a hand with character development, check out our big-picture editing services for help with making your characters more compelling. 

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