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Character Therapy…When they’re too messed up… #writing #characters

Confused 1

Last week Eerie gave us some insight into why we use flawed characters.  Of course, me being me, I had to point out the only interesting character is one who is flawed. C’mon, no one likes reading about Perfect Polly and her Awesome, Astounding Life of Ease.  Yet, can a writer hobble their character with too many flaws?

Our motley group of eight (because why have seven if you can do more?), we’ve considered numerous challenges to place before our various protagonists, be it a solid box where magic can’t operate, a juice mixer that only works with certain souls, or a snowy day in New Orleans.  The whole point of telling a story is to take your character, give them a few hurdles, some hidden pits with stakes, and shiny pot of gold at the end of the wacky rainbow and see how they turn out.  Are they better? Worse? A little more colorful or holey?   It’s one of the more fun aspects of being a writer, coming up with some great challenges that utilize creative thinking to get around or under.

Yet the goal of these challenges is to shine a great, big spotlight on our character’s flaws (or give it a steroid shot).  There is a fine balance a writer must navigate–creating a likable, flawed character a reader can connect with.  That’s a great deal more difficult than it sounds.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been puttering along, my Muse occasionally sticking her foot out so I trip, then snickering at me, when I suddenly realize I really don’t like my characters all of sudden.  Why? They’re just too…too…good.  They aren’t suffering enough or they’re not asking enough questions or they’re playing way too nice with the other characters.  That’s when I know, my character is becoming well adjusted…NOOOOOOO!

I don’t have a magic formula or chart (especially since Math is not my forte) on how many flaws or how deep those flaws have to be for a character to work, but think about it.  How boring is it if we aren’t challenged through out our life?  Same with our characters. We’re picking up a book so we can jump into the most exciting point in a character’s life, therefore as writers, we must make sure that the challenges and flaws they must face will keep a reader hooked for the entire story. Readers (and I say this since I, too, read) want to see the main character emerge triumphant over evil and themselves at the story’s end.  Or if not exactly where they should be, pretty darn close.

However, I have read some books when I hit the end, I need some serious therapy. The character faces such overwhelming odds from themselves and their world that it’s all I can do not to hand them a gun and just nod sadly.

So, is it just me or have you read something similar? Can a character be too flawed to read?


Leave a comment


  1. I love your thinking on this. I believe that all characters must have at least one redeeming quality. We should not make it impossible for our protagonist to achieve his goals with defects of character or too many obstacles. The antagonist should not find it too easy to thwart our protagonist either. The right balance of challenges and flaws is what pulls the reader along.

  2. I just noted on Twitter that there’s a modern trend (in the last few years) of characters who don’t just have some interesting flaws – they are full on psychopaths. Dexter, half the people in Game Of Thrones, Sons Of Anarchy, The Wire, Breaking Bad – there are major characters and protagonists who are incredibly evil. What this means I’m not sure.

  3. Yeah, there’s something to be said for having characters with so many flaws, it’s like looking at Rorschach image.


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