Create Less Than Perfect Characters

Create Less Than Perfect Characters
"Create Less than Perfect Characters" by Joan Y. Edwards

In order to create less than perfect characters, each character must have a flaw. It's okay to dream up a character with more than one flaw. Brainstorming your character with different types of flaws may help you decide which one creates the most havoc for him in his particular situation. You could group three primary flaws that are characteristic of one particular gigantic shortcoming for your character. However, you may want one flaw that signals their defining trait.

Flaw, according to the Google dictionary, is a mark, fault, or other imperfection that mars a substance or object. For example: The outlet store sold plates with flaws in them. Synonyms for flaw are defect, blemish, fault, imperfection, deficiency, weakness, weak spot/point/link, inadequacy, shortcoming, limitation, failing, or foible.

In 1993, to focus attention and resources to eliminate accidents and human error, Gordon Dupont, a worker in maintenance for Transport Canada developed the following Dirty Dozen list of causes for human mistakes at work:
  1. Lack of communication
  2. Distraction
  3. Lack of Resources
  4. Stress
  5. Complacency - a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, unaware of potential danger, defect, or the like.
  6. Lack of Teamwork
  7. Pressure (of deadline)
  8. Lack of Awareness
  9. Lack of Knowledge
  10. Fatigue
  11. Lack of Assertiveness-don't feel free or not allowed to speak up
  12. Norms-the way you've always done it
These could cause life-changing situations for your characters. But you don't want your characters to get hurt. I understand. About 6 years ago, Pam Zollman told writers you have to hurt your "bunnies" (characters).  Oh my goodness! As a writer you may be a "Mother Hen or "Protective Father" and don't want anything to happen to your little ones. However, to have a plot, to have a story at all, means that you must create something bad to happen to your main character. That's bad, spelled and pronounced B-a-a-a-a-d. After the bad experience, watch him meet the challenge. I promise you that your character will meet any challenge you give him. He will make it out of the darkest corner. With your help, how can he fail?

To look at the dark side, the darkest corners of films, watch a few film noir from the 1940's to late 1950's. The Guardian lists the Top 10 Film Noir movies and a summary of each one and why it was good. Film noir was usually in black and white. It may have been an American Detective or crime film that emphasized cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. It seemed to me that no character in a film noir ever reached the good side of human behavior. One person, the detective who solved the mystery, may have been the only one on the right side. According to Fandor, the noir style has expressionism and realism with night scenarios, strong shadows, low-key lighting, dynamic compositions, hard-boiled dialogue, flashbacks, fragmented narratives, and fluid camera movements.

One of the many I've seen on AMC on television is Out of the Past (1947).

A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.

But it could have been one of many. Film Noir present a pretty bleak view of our world. Consider this pitch description of Blackout:

A down-and-out American visits London and meets a beautiful blonde who offers him a fortune to marry her. He quickly agrees but the next day he awakens in an artist's studio covered with blood and his supposed father-in-law's corpse!

Sometimes writers put a funny spin on the foibles of the characters, one such 1955 film is "The Trouble with Harry." Poor Harry gets dug up numerous times during the story. I remember when I saw a 1989 movie Weekend at Bernie's considered a dark comedy. I was so surprised at myself for laughing hysterically at it.

Many times in life, the story behind the story is intriguing and goes to the dark side. For instance, the movie Captain Phillips (2013)

The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship hijacked in two hundred years.

Some of the men in the crew with Captain Phillips contend that Captain Phillips shouldn't have taken them there in the first place and have claimed a lawsuit against the real Captain Phillips. Now that would make another good movie.

Reverse the usual for your characters. What if everyone in your story except one person was evil...not just one flaw, they had all flaws except for one good redeeming trait. See what kind of story you get.
For instance, there's a robbery in town. Everyone helps the robber get away. Why? It's sad to think about, but what if the world was that way. What if your character has people believing the best about him and they couldn't believe he did it. He had charisma personified. But one character could see through all the songs and dances and convict the robber.

When you write a story, you get to create a world that might be hard to imagine...a sad, tragic, magic, or joyful world. But it's your story with your main character with many flaws, three flaws, or only one flaw. A flaw is what gets him into trouble. A flaw is what gets him into the deeper depths of despair. Only when your character is brave and wise enough to see things differently is he able to think of a way out of his bottomless pit. You have a choice of a happy ending or an ending that you drape in the perils of tragedy.

I thought by looking at these 12 causes of mistakes and glancing at the dark side might help you decide which flaw is "perfect" for a character in your story to make him memorable.
Here are a few first sentence story-starters or character sketches:
  1. Everyone in his family for generations has been trustworthy. But not, Ned Parker.
  2. A leader needs good communication, but the President of the United States did not have good communication on the day when the people of Zamboo declared war.
  3. Everyone cringed to think that the airplane built by Forever Airlines had not had the suggested maintenance inspections and repairs. Whose fault was it that maintenance orders were not carried out? Who is going to pay for the deaths caused when Flight 513 went down on I-95?
  4. James couldn't focus on his job as a taxi driver. He worried about his grandfather. He worried about his son in school. Most of all, he worried about his bank account. He didn't notice the lady walking out from two parked cars.
  5. Teresa was unaware of the faulty electrical cord she used to turn on her hair dryer. She never checked her surroundings. She took it for granted that everything was going to be fine and that electrical outlets stay good for a lifetime. The day her hair frizzed and the shock went through her body, was the day she became paranoid about safety.
Please leave a comment. Tell me some of your techniques for helping your characters fall deeper in trouble or rise from a b-a-a-a-a-d situation to create a better world for themselves. I'd love to hear what you think.

Celebrate you and your gift of writing,

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

I hope you'll buy Flip Flap Floodle to read to your children and grandchildren because even mean ole Mr. Fox can't stop this little duck from playing his song.

Joan’s Elder Care Guide, Release December 2014 by 4RV Publishing
Copyright © 2014 Joan Y. Edwards


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Right on. Let's all start noticing how good screenplays do this.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Loving helping writers get read with my HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers including the multi award-winning (newly formatted!) second edition of The Frugal Editor (e-book only at least for a while!)

Heidiwriter said...

We as readers certainly don't enjoy "perfect" characters, whether good or bad. The flaw could be a lack of patience or a bit of selfishness.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carolyn,
Thank you so much for writing. I'm glad you thought these hints were right on. It is fun to notice how good a screenplay gives us characters with flaws.

Celebrate you.
Never Give Up

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Heidi,
Thank you for writing. You're right. We can't relate to a perfect character. We'll stop reading many times, won't we? A Lack of patience or a bit of selfishness are good character flaws. Thanks for sharing with us.

Celebrate you.
Never Give Up

Karen Cioffi said...

Joan, great article. I love the oldies and they do show 'less than perfect' characters. And, imperfect characters make for good writing and reading.

Another good one is with Gary Grant, Arsenic and Old Lace. A dark comedy that's hysterical.

Thanks for all the great links!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Karen,
Thank you for writing. I appreciate the compliment. You are right. Imperfect characters make for good writing and good reading.

In high school, I acted in Arsenic and Old is definitely hysterically funny and dark.

You're welcome for all the links.

Celebrate you and your willingness to share your knowledge and skills,
Never Give Up

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great list to work from. Imperfect characters have more depth.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Mary Jo, Thanks for reading this blog post. You are right imperfect characters have more depth!

Celebrate you1
Never Give Up

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