character competition saint or sinner

Character Competition: The Saint or the Sinner?

Compare characters from Alexandre Dumas’s novel The Last Cavalier to discover how to create a larger-than-life character who isn’t infuriatingly perfect.

Video Transcription:

Because readers get to live vicariously through our characters, they like larger than life characters. People are who are better and stronger and smarter than the average Joe. Hence the current popularity of the superhero genre. So it only makes sense that if we want readers to love our characters and the stories they populate, we should make our characters the best they can be at everything. But, actually, this method is the recipe for Epic Fail.

In Alexandre Dumas’s lost (and last) novel The Last Cavalier: Being the Adventures of Count Sainte-Hermine in the Age of Napoleon, the author brings us two larger-than-life heroes. One is a historical sketch of the infamous Napoleon Bonaparte, a flawed and foibled and fascinating man of there ever was one. Dumas sketches Napoleon’s quick temper, his arbitrary judgments, his ruthless ambitions in no uncertain terms. But he balances the man’s humanity—his humor, his generosity, and his brilliance—honestly enough for us to see a wonderfully three-dimensional personality emerge. We relate to his flaws just enough that we can cheer his successes, in spite of ourselves.On the other end of the spectrum, we have Dumas’s fictional hero Comte Hector Sainte-Hermine, whose perfection stands in stark contrast to Napoleon’s realistic shades of gray. Hector is infuriately perfect. You name the test, and Hector is going to ace it: courtly etiquette, shooting, sword fighting, sailing. He fights with no spark of fear, speaks myriad language with flawless accents, plays and composes music upon any instrument you can think of, can quote the history of every monument in Rome, and is a “veritable walking library.”

A few chapters of this saintly fellow is enough to send the reader running back to Napoleon’s tyranny. Larger-than-life characters are the stuff of fiction—but just remember that their larger-than-life virtues and skills need to be balanced with a healthy dose of larger-than-life faults and struggles if we hope to keep the reader interested. Perfection simply isn’t interesting. The possibility of change and growth is what keeps readers reading.

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.


  1. I love this!

    Change and growth- super important! There’s nothing worse than sitting through an entire book only to find the main character exactly where they were in the beginning.

  2. I love your vlog. It is so getting to be the hot way to post and I love finding one. Yours was so good! I love that epic fail part. Is so very, very true. We have foibles and so should our characters if we want our readers to be able to relate to them. Thanks for sharing. So well spoken.
    Coming back

  3. @Stephanie: Static characters work occasionally, but static, perfect characters just flat out irritating!

    @JD: I like to read about characters who rise above their faults – but first they have to have faults!

  4. Good job, Katie…and I completely agree with what you’re saying, too!

  5. Thanks, Sage!

  6. Great Vlog – you have such a calming presence – it’s very easy to watch you ;o) Great information and very important – we’re not perfect why should our characters be :o)

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. The allure of perfect characters (from a writer’s perspective) is tied up with the fear that readers won’t like a flawed personality, and therefore won’t want to read about him. But in analyzing the characters that we love best as readers ourselves, it becomes clear pretty quickly that flaws don’t scare us away!

  8. Well said, I completely agree!

  9. You’re so right. One of the reasons why I love to read across a broad spectrum of genres is because I love to study the work of great storytellers. The more complex and interesting the characters the better!

  10. @Sharon: Couldn’t have said it better. I’m a genre jumping bean when it comes to reading. I like to keep my horizons wide open.

  11. Wonderful! This is such great information and you delivered it so well. I love your vlogs, K.M. :-)

  12. Thanks! I’m glad you found it useful! :)

  13. Flawed, foibled, and fascinating.

    Much better than flat. That’s just frustrating.

    I love watching and hearing you! But I could use a transcript, too. Furiously taking notes. LOL!

  14. Flawed, foibled, fascinating – but not flat. Sounds like it should be a bumper sticker!

  15. Thanks for another great video lesson! Your videos are neither too long nor too short, and always deliver a juicy tidbit to ponder.

    I agree that the whole notion of perfection seems whitewashed and dull. Flaws – now they’re juicy! Especially when they’re not ours.

  16. Yep, yep – other people’s flaws are infinitely more interesting than our own!

  17. Simply brilliant, my thanks.
    Warm regards,

  18. Thanks for stopping by!

  19. How impressive! Not only do you know your stuff, you present yourself professionally and authoritatively. I’m looking forward to seeing many more of these from you!

  20. Thanks, Linda! This project has been a fun learning experience for me too so far.

  21. We readers DO like those flawed characters, their the ones we remember! Another good post… surprise surprise :-)

  22. In large part, I think our need for flawed characters is the fact that only flawed characters can *overcome* flaws, at least to some extent.

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