Alright, I hope everyone had a wonderful thanksgiving – I know I did. However, now it is time to get back to creating characters. Last time we talked about making your character’s into real people, and today we are going to continue that conversation. Remember that real people are complicated. They have virtues and vices, strengths and flaws (not necessarily in balance), goals and desires that don’t really line up with their life plan. There are no supermen, no perfect people, even the saints were sinners – and they’d be the first to say it, one of the reasons that they are saints in the first place. Most of us also tend to put our best foot forward (except for the few of us that usually put our worst foot forward in an overbalanced attempt to be honest…I’m working on it…really). So, there are a number of things that you should avoid when making a character:
1) Avoid flawless characters. This one is a problem in both methods. In the natural method – well, that thing I said about putting your best foot forward? It goes for characters as well. Dig deep, root out their flaws. Your hero might say that he’s a paragon of manly virtue, but there’s a tutu hiding under his bed somewhere, it’s your job to find it. In the ordered method, examine the answers to your questions. Do they make the character seem superhuman? Even if he is the audience still needs to identify with him. What does he struggle with? What does he fear? What does he hate? For instance, I’ve got a character that I’m working on right now for a story. He’s a skilled wizard, but he doesn’t have much raw power, and a great guy, but he’s also a bit of a misogynist. He’s not a wife beating maniac or anything, but he does operate under the assumption that women are weak, foolish, and break easily.
2) Avoid overly balanced characters. Symmetry is nice – in decoration. In a character it feels wrong. When was the last time you met someone with perfectly symmetrical eyes, or flaws that compliment their strengths? Or equivalent strengths and flaws? God doesn’t sit in the sky saying, ‘well, your short, so I’ll give you a quick wit’ or “your really pretty, so you’ll have to be a philanderer.’ Some people seem charmed from birth with looks, brains, social graces, money, etc. Other people are crippled idiots who grow up in the slums. It would be nice if everything balanced out fairly, but it doesn’t. If the characters you write are too well balanced, then eventually people will start to notice. So, how do you fix this? Time to play god. If you’re using the natural method, then talk to your characters, remind the ones that get everything to be humble, apologize to the ones that get the ace of diamonds and two of spades on the deal (that’s a poker reference if you missed it). However, make sure that no character gets to pick everything. This is a part of telling your character who he is (I talked about this last time), you have to be the one to tell your character that his mother ran off when he was three, or that he’s stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Sometimes this is going to hurt, especially if your start caring about your characters. Trust me, it’s worse when you have to kill them.
3) Avoid typed flaws and fatal flaws. This isn’t a 100% of the time kind of thing. There are excellent examples of typed flaws out there, Tony Stark as Iron Man is one of them. He’s a rich, playboy, billionaire so of course he’s an alcoholic, and it works great. There are also excellent examples of fatal flaws, Wolverine is perfect for this (I have superheroes on the brain right now). In Wolverine: Origins we see that John Howlett really only has one fatal flaw, his temper. Normally in control, when he loses it – he really loses it. This flaw, combined with a succession of horrible circumstances, turn a happy young man who has everything going for him into a bitter, lonely assassin who hates the fact that he can’t seem to die. In general, however, most people don’t have one fatal flaw, nor are their flaws typed. Millionaires are not necessarily philandering drunkards, the poor are not necessarily involved with drugs, people who have been hurt are not necessarily bitter loners. All of these things do happen, but that doesn’t mean that they must happen, and your writing should reflect that.
4) Use real world examples. Before you go too far, I’m not suggesting that you base your characters on real people. I’m generally against this, because I think that it’s a) bad for friendships, and b) leads to characters that the author doesn’t really understand. However, you can use examples of flaws that you see in real people. For example, a teacher who secretly thinks himself a fool, a healer who refuses treatment, a student who tries too hard and takes on too much, a preacher who disdains knowledge. Just a few examples from people I have known in the past. You can also use the theological concept of besetting sins to help here. The concept is generally based on the theology, if not the actual words, of Paul, and it argues that every person has one sin that troubles them more than others. A humble man might struggle with greed, or lust. A generous man might be a glutton, or struggle with pride, etc.
Whatever course you choose to follow, make sure that you ask the right questions (depending on the model that you’re following) and give the right answers. Also don’t give up when your character’s refuse to play along. Their starting to grow up now, which means that sometimes they have to be told what to do. Of course, it also means that they can take it.