1. Travis Perry says:

    Well, wouldn’t it be nice to only be as flawed as Sam Gamgee! I mean, he’s pretty close to being without flaws, though he does have a rather justified at times mean-streak towards Gollum, as you pointed out.

    How do you feel about characters that are beyond merely flawed? That are seriously disturbed or with major character defects? I can’t say I’ve written such characters successfully (though I’ve tried), but it’s fascinating to me to consider where is the point when flaws are so big that they make a character unlikable. What are your thoughts on that?

    • Personally, I think as long as you can make a reader connect with the character, you can get away with having a fair number of flaws or defects. But the key thing there, I think, is establishing that reader connection. Without it, even a minorly flawed character can be annoying and a majorly flawed character would frustrate me to no end. But if I as a reader really connect with a character, I’m willing to travel with them on their journey, no matter how painful it gets. If at some point the author breaks my belief in that character, by having them act in a way that’s counter intuitive for the character, then they’ll lose me.

      “Seriously disturbed” could be taking it a bit far in terms of readers rooting for the character, but I do think it can be done in a way where readers continued reading because they are intrigued, if only because they want to see the trainwreck. I haven’t ever really tried to write that sort of character though as a protagonist, so it is an interesting question.

  2. Not sure which imperfect chars have influenced me the most, but some recent ones that are important to me are Kiritsugu (along with many others from Fate Zero, the anime he’s from) and Itachi from Naruto and Naruto Shippuden.

    Kiritsugu’s story arc helped me articulate a lot of things I sort of subtly believed but couldn’t quite express before. One of the large aspects of Kiritsugu’s arc is that he’s trying to win the Holy Grail so that it will grant his wish to end all conflict in the world. That goal crashes and burns in a very horrible way. Yet, there is redemption at the end of it, and we still see some small kindnesses and good in Kiritsugu’s life even after he fails so badly.

    So his story kind of helped me articulate my philosophy when it comes to fixing things: It’s good to try and improve the world, but that desire turns destructive when we attempt to force (our perception of) perfection on those around us, especially if we want to ramp that up to a world wide scale, like Kiritsugu did when he tried to eliminate all war. In real life terms…not everyone will cooperate with attempts to ‘perfect’ the world, so the only recourse is to either allow for some imperfections, or to hurt/destroy anyone that doesn’t cooperate. Most people will say they’re willing to allow for imperfections, but that’s obviously not completely true when we see how hostile people are on both sides of the political spectrum.

    As for Itachi…he’s a very good tragic hero character, much like Kiritsugu. Itachi made some horrifically difficult decisions to protect his village and his little brother, but there were still some unintentional negative consequences to his decisions, and to an extent he seems to wish he approached the issue a bit differently. The imperfections of his decisions, his hurt and regret, and the tragic complexity of his situation makes him feel very real and human.

    Characters like this are good for figuring out how to handle our own imperfections. With these two characters, that’s especially true for me, since I actually have a few personality traits in common with them.

  3. Also, sometimes it bugs me to see a character touted as ‘perfect’ or without ‘major’ flaws. In real life, sometimes those people can be even worse because they don’t have as much self awareness as they should. They’re so used to matching up to society’s perception of good, that they don’t recognize signs that they are about to do something bad. They may also lack empathy in crucial areas, since they don’t know what it’s like to make a huge mistake and regret it. Sometimes, in real life, I’ve seen this lead to hypocritical, controlling behavior because the ‘good’ person thinks they know what’s best for everyone.

    Sometimes this is why I respect redeemed or flawed characters a lot more in many cases. Taking a character like Edmund from Narnia, for instance, we can see why he was chosen to be Edmund the Just. Due to his experiences, he is more inclined to have humility and empathy, and thus realize that there are times when mercy is needed, instead of just looking down people who make mistakes. And when we look at the Prince Caspian movie, we get an example of how valuable and wonderful a redeemed person can be. When the White Witch was being resurrected, Peter was tempted to take her offer and almost did. Edmund, on the other hand, was so traumatized by his past with Jadis was so grateful for the redemption Aslan gave him that he destroys the Witch right away.

    Obviously the redeemed or flawed character will continue to make mistakes, but sometimes being flawed and redeemed gives them the experience needed to avoid problems they would have blindly stumbled into otherwise.

    • Yes, that’s a really good point, Autumn. Those hidden flaws can be just as destructive and deadly. And I love what you said about how those flawed but redeemed characters know how to show grace to others too! It’s such a good reminder for all of us who know that we are flawed but redeemed to be willing to keep on showing grace, even when we don’t understand what’s driving a person to act or do the things that they are doing.

  4. Thanks Gillian. I carry before me, daily, the reminder that while I want to be Aragorn, I’m all the more likely to be Boromir. That doesn’t mean evil, but it does mean flawed. Now that would have been a neat character arc, to see someone step up and help Boromir see his blindspot, and to see him grow into a king/lover role rather than fall short as a half-redeemed tyrant archtype.

    Here’s to characters with flaws, like the gang surrounding Jesus!

What do you think?