Saturday, September 24, 2016

Got Flaws?

Tell me about your weaknesses.

No, this isn’t a post about job interviews.  However, once—just once in my life—I would love to respond to this asinine question by saying “Well, my main weakness is my tendency to puke on any job interviewer obtuse enough to ask me that totally lame question.”  I would then proceed to vomit the semi-digested remains of an enormous meal all over his/her desk.

I guess job interviewing isn’t one of my strengths; you might even consider it a weakness worthy of being mentioned during job interviews!

But we all do have imperfections, don’t we?  In my experience, perfect people are essentially uninteresting and not much fun to be around.  They lack depth, personality, warmth, magnetism, and charisma.  They are neither well-rounded nor sympathetic.  I’ve encountered a number of perfect individuals in my life—at least they loudly proclaimed themselves as such—and I’ve found them to be … frankly … boring.

This can apply to literary characters as well.  Consider the characters (particularly the protagonist) in the novel or short story you’re currently writing.  Do they have flaws?  Do they have imperfections?  Do they have personality elements that are downright unlikable?  Do they have relatability?

To be grandiose about it, do they have humanity?

If not, your writing may not be reaching out and connecting with your readers as effectively as possible.

As I sometimes reflect upon Dana, my protagonist in Child of Privilege, I wonder if I should’ve given her more of an edge, more of a nasty side, and a few more general flaws in her character.  Perhaps I should’ve given her more of a fiery temper or more of a potty mouth.

To this day, occasional plot questions still nag at me: after the incident with Wanda, what if our runaway debutante had resorted to prostitution in order to buy another bus ticket?  What if she had become a cocktail waitress at Red’s?  What if she had spent the night with some trucker at the honky-tonk and rode off with him?  What if she had cleaned out Greg’s cottage while he was at work and skipped town? 

During those final violent scenes in the bedroom at the Van Werner Mansion, what if Dana had actually carried out her wishes?

If you're unfamiliar with what I’m referring to, Child of Privilege is available at many fine online retailers.  To get in the know (and your very own copy), just follow THIS LINK.

(The preceding has been a Shameless Plug.  We now return you to our regularly-scheduled blog post.)

All characters—especially protagonists—need flaws.  Why?  Because perfect is boring; perfect is not much fun to read; perfect doesn’t keep the pages turning late at night; perfect leaves a writer little room for character development.  Perfect just sits there … being perfect.


Skillfully executed, flaws can become powerful devices for plot advancement, serving as triggers for totally unexpected twists and turns in the story.  But more importantly, they imbue your players with depth, texture, and connectability.  The most endearing characters reach out and touch the reader through their humanity, their fears, and their vulnerability.  They project the quality of humanness—like a bright spotlight--onto the theater stage of the reader’s mind.  The result: connection … and an engaged reader who keeps reading nonstop until The End.

So, don't overlook the potential value of imperfections when thumbnailing your characters.  You just might end up with some endearing personalities that your readers will love.  Allow them to stumble, fall, screw up, go to the bathroom at inconvenient moments, chew with their mouths open, leave the toilet seat in the wrong position, pick their noses, step in dog poop, scratch themselves in indiscreet places, and perhaps even fall asleep after sex.

Most of all, when some interviewer asks them what their weaknesses are, allow them to puke on the interviewers’ desks.

It'll serve ‘em right.

Imperfect is the new perfection.

P.S. Don’t forget to pet your Thesaurus today.