When we think of heroes, we think of Superman, marines, firefighters, etc. Often heroes are made to be unstoppable forces that are held up on pedestals. But this perfection makes heroes unbelievable. They become characters readers can’t relate to. Since the hero is usually the protagonist of the story, they must draw readers in. The best way to do that is to make the hero human. Give them flaws.
In real life, no one is perfect. We all have things in our past that have effected who we are now. We are all scarred in some way or another. The same goes for our fictional heroes. The first page of a story isn’t the beginning of a character’s life. There’s backstory. A hero’s past can create a compelling character, and for the most part, the hero wasn’t always a hero. Perhaps the character grew up in the inner city and ended up killing a person for a gang initiation. This murder haunted the character, and so to atone, he became a vigilante fighting to save innocent lives and punishing those who deserve it.
Backstory also shows readers what motivates the hero, what choices they’ll make (how they’ll behave), what emotional scars a hero has, what are their quirks, etc.
Flaws make a character believable. When a character is flawed, they make mistakes, sometimes their emotions overpower their reasoning, occasionally they overreact, and with every poor choice they make, they have to deal with the consequences. Readers empathize with this because readers know what it’s like to mess up. But, what really makes readers fall in love with heroes is when heroes struggle to move past their faults, when they grow as characters.
Flaws create conflict (both conflict within the character and conflict with other characters). Conflict within a character is also known as internal conflict. It occurs within a character’s mind. Many people may admire the character, but internally the character believes that they aren’t worthy, and never will be.
Conflict with other characters is known as external conflict. It’s the forces outside of the hero that are trying to prevent the hero from obtaining their goal. External conflict also disrupts relationships between characters, and will be something they have to work through in order to succeed.
The more conflict there is, the more tension increases within a story. But, if the conflict doesn’t make sense, then it will seem random and distance readers from the story. For example, a character can’t simply wake up one day and have women crying make him angry. There has to be a reason for this reaction, which circles back to a character’s past.
If a hero starts out being perfect, then there’s no room for growth, and despite all the external conflicts that occur, it’s the internal conflicts, and the accompanying personal growth, that makes a story appealing to readers.
What flaws do you give your characters?
(Photo courtesy of amanda tipton.)