Tag Archives: flaws

Character flaws in fiction

Having started poking around the subject of flaws yesterday, I thought it worth exploring in further detail. From a writing perspective, character flaws are very important (Druid perspective tomorrow!) Real people are flawed, after all. Perfect people are dull, and predictable, so once you get beyond very simple children’s stories, flaws become very important in character creation.

A rounded character needs weak points, failings, blind spots, and things they are rubbish at. These open the way for narrative, as through them, events unfold that the character cannot quickly or easily deal with. Failings actually make a character more endearing, I’ve found. People who are too nice, too good, too kind, too reasonable can actually be hard to empathise with. They might be the sort of people we ought to like, but they aren’t quite human and are a lot harder to engage with.

So, how do you go about putting flaws into a character? You might need to consider it in light of the needs of the plot. The character may need to be blind, or agoraphobic, or clumsy for the story to work. You might grow the flaws out of their personal history – in the form of fears and anxieties, beliefs about themselves or the world, old problems that haunt them, and so forth. You might want to give your character a physical disadvantage of some sort – from injury, illness or birth. You might consider a mental disability. Then there are personality traits – anger, jealousy, paranoia, depression, and so forth. Obsessions compulsions and phobias can flaw a character in some very interesting ways, giving you all kinds of scope to play with them creatively. You could make them a bit lazy, bad at handling money, gullible. A combination of flaws can make for a very convincing person.

Of course, if you make a character too flawed, they become unsympathetic or hard to engage with. A selfish, lazy, clumsy heroine who swears compulsively and hates cats and children may be hard to engage readers with. She might however, make a very good problem ex-girlfriend to have complicating the main plot. Getting the balance right with enough flaws to make a character plausible and likable, is not entirely easy.

Acknowledging the Flaws

As a writer and a pagan, I want to write about pagan people. That creates some interesting tensions. As a writer, I know that interest and sympathy come from flaws. Overly perfect people aren’t realistic, and it’s the problems that create plots and interest. As a pagan, I want to represent paganism well. In reality, there are some problem folk in our community – as there are in all communities. There are people who are drawn by a desire for power, who claim knowledge they don’t have, who use their status for abusive or sexually predatory reasons. There are nutters, (as in any community) there are airy fairy fluffy types and hard core intolerant folk. Pagans are people, and people tend to be complicated, messy, flawed entities.

There isn’t, to the best of my knowledge, much fiction out there dealing with real life modern pagans. (If you know of anything good, please comment!) Much of it is more on the fantasy side, delving into magic and witchcraft in ways that bear no resemblance to the realities of being an ordinary pagan. I think because so many pagans have a non-conventional relationship with reality, we tend to write more ‘magical realism’ than not, but a great deal of what I’ve seen claiming to show pagan characters, looks more like full blown fantasy to me. This may be because at least some of the writers of such fiction are writing fantasy, not speaking from experience. 

I have absolutely no idea what market (if any) there might be for stories that reflect the reality of pagan life. I haven’t the faintest idea what affect it might have putting such material out there. How would other folk relate to us if they knew about the bitchcraft and witch wars, the in-fighting, the predators, the politics, and the challenges of ‘normal’ paganism. Stories about happy functional groves, hearths and covens aren’t going to make good reading. Plots require tension. Fiction that makes use of the very real and actual flaws, isn’t necessarily going to make anyone comfortable.

The writer in me rather fancies taking what I know of the pagan scene, and making a story of it. The pagan in me is horrified by the idea. So for now, my pagan work is also more on the magical realism side, and I’ve not tackled the personalities, politics, and weirdness that I know is out there. If anyone else has braved it and written honestly about modern paganism, in all its complexity, I’d be very interested to know about it.