It occurs to me that when creating characters, most people get in trouble because they heard somewhere they must give their character a flaw and almost randomly decide to throw a flaw in. These “flaws” are almost always either totally out of place, so you end up with a superman who likes to kick puppies, a charity coordinator who likes to drive while drunk (though he never hits anyone) and a starship captain who picks his nose.
And to all this – if not utterly put off – the reader says “Wait, what?”
Sometimes you decide you don’t want your character’s flaws to be merely cosmetic of “something minor” and you get even worse – the great inventor who beats up women for fun, say. And then your reader goes “Ew.”
Stop whining and wringing your hands and saying “but they told me the character couldn’t be perfect.” To begin with the only reason they told you that is because you were Mary Sueing it, weren’t you, having a character who was a reflection of yourself and who could go into your world and fix everything without any effort. Yeah. I knew you were. Here, have my handkerchief. Almost everyone does that to begin with.
The thing is, if you’re not trying to keep your character perfect and if you make sure that he can’t solve things without hardly moving a finger, and if you give him real problems to face, his “flaws” will show, because you’re not perfect, so unless you rig the game, you can’t create perfect.
However, if you still can’t see it, I’ll give you a hint: most of us have the flaws of our virtues and have flaws in proportion to our virtues. Take Athena in Darkship Thieves – she’s brave and strong, it’s what kept her alive. She’s also unreasoningly violent. Or take Heinlein’s Friday (someone was convinced that’s where I got Athena, or that the themes were similar. They weren’t. She had to deal with ‘not being human’ but that was a SHORT part of the book, because for most of it she doesn’t know. Friday does.) Friday is inhumanely perfect. Her flaw is that she knows she’s not human. Take Jarl Ingemar also from Darkships, with whom I’m dealing in the current book (don’t ask.) His virtue is that he’s possibly the greatest genius the world ever created. The flaw is that he regards everyone else as lesser beings even if he tries to fight against it.
Alternately, your characters can have the flaws of their upbringing. Tom, in the Shifters series, was kicked out of the house at sixteen. He knows what it’s like to be lone and friendless so he compulsively rescues strays of various kinds. And if you think that isn’t a flaw, you’ve never done it. Let alone those that will metaphorically bite your hand, you could endanger yourself and those you love by extending charity and help against all rational advice.
Alternately, still, they can have the flaws of their situation, which is often the problem. Say, a character in a Stalinist society will have to engage in double thinking, with all the stains this leaves in the psyche. He might be engaged in a great work – say, revolution – and have to turn someone else in to live just another day.
Anyway – flaws work like that. And then they seem integral to the character and not a sprink from the “flaw shaker” whether the character needs them or not.
Questions? Comments? Rotten oranges?