One Major Pitfall of Writing Strong Characters

One Major Pitfall of Writing Strong Characters


Writing strong characters should be one of your major goals for any type of story. But what exactly is a strong character?

This phrase is tossed around a lot (especially, it seems, when it comes to female characters), but it can be frustratingly vague. Mostly, the “strong character” seems to conjure images of physically fearless men and women bulldozing through their stories with high self-esteem and complete self-respect.

But what that describes is a strong personality, not necessarily a strong character. Inherent in that stereotype of the strong character is a big fat pitfall–one into which it’s far too easy to tumble without meaning to. Let’s take a look, so you can avoid this problem in writing strong characters of your own.

The 2 Basics of Writing Strong Characters

First things first: what is a strong character?

As I’ve discussed before, a strong character is nothing more or less than a personality who moves the plot. [1] A strong character is a catalyst. This doesn’t necessarily mean this person is physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually strong. It doesn’t mean this person is moral; it doesn’t mean this person is healthy.

A strong character is simply a dynamic character. That’s the bare bones.

However, it’s worth noting that because of its other connotations, [2] “strength” in a character often does indicate someone who possesses personal strength of some sort and is what we would generally consider an admirable role model.

Those are the more obvious aspects of writing strong characters. But, wait, there’s more!

1 Secret Ingredient of a Strong Character

Taken by themselves, the above elements might create that strong personality we talked about. But they won’t necessarily create a strong character. Why? Because they’re too one-sided.

Strength, by its very nature, indicates an overcoming of weakness. Strength with no weakness is like light with no dark. Whatever Obi-Wan may say, that just doesn’t work.

Perfect characters aren’t strong characters. They’re boring characters. As a matter of fact, we could even argue they’re not strong characters at all, since they have nothing to overcome. They have no way to prove to readers–to show readers–their strength.

How to Avoid the Trap of Writing Strong Characters With No Weakness

The solution is, of course, pretty intuitive: You just add a weakness.

But sometimes that’s surprisingly difficult.

As authors, we can be blind to the problems caused by a character’s lack of weaknesses. Either we lose sight of the character’s internal struggle or we become so enamored with our creation that we put him on a pedestal where he can do no wrong. The more time you spend writing a character, the more this becomes a danger.

Kate Beckett from Castle is a good example. She starts out as a strong personality, but one who possesses plenty of offsetting weaknesses. She’s smart, she’s tough, she’s self-sufficient. But she’s also racked with pain and personal problems in the wake of her mother’s murder. She’s terrified of letting people–especially Rick Castle–into her life.

Kate Beckett is an example of writing a strong character who lost her interesting weaknesses.

Castle (2009-16), ABC.

That terror, hidden under all her seeming perfect polish, is what made her a great character. She was admirable in so many ways, but she wasn’t flawless. The juxtaposition between the two was her most interesting quality.

But then something happened. As the story went on (and on and on) and she finally solved her mother’s murder, her flaws and her fear suddenly disappeared. The realism disappeared right along with it.  All that’s left is a super-cop, super-wife who can do no wrong and has no doubts (even her hair got perfect).

Kate Beckett Perfect Hair

Castle (2009-16), ABC.

So who was more interesting: the broken cop hiding her cracks or the superwoman strutting her stuff? You already know the answer.

In writing your own strong characters, start with their weaknesses. That’s always going to be the most interesting part of any character. Then, and only then, start building their strengths around those weaknesses in interesting and offsetting ways. Give it a try!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What weaknesses and flaws have you chosen when writing strong characters? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Love it, head to toe. This is post serves a good myth buster for writing a strong character. This is just what the doctor ordered. How did you know? That’s exactly what I have to work on with my character. The example you provided is excellent and it resonates just hearing about it. We’re flawed people. It’s a fact of life. I’m not sure why we have this concept of a “strong” character without imperfection. It’s so unrealistic. Sometimes my flaws bring me to tears if I dwell on them too long. Maybe that’s why I have an idealistic view of what a strong character is supposed to be like.

    Thanks a million for the post!

    Your the best Jedi Master 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have as much of a tendency as anyone to want to write super-de-duper characters who just go around being awesome. Because then, of course, readers will think he’s just super-de-duper awesome all day, every day.

      Not. :p

      But *I* always, always, always find my characters most interested when they’re being broken, and I know readers do too.

      • Broken is a great word to describe them. Just that word alone speaks volumes.

        You just gave me a new word: super-de-duper. I love it. I’m going to start using that one. I imagined this hulk of man strutting around being awesome. It almost sounds interesting in a humorous way.

        *sigh* my character and I are going to have it out this weekend. We need to have a *talk*. A good ol’ man to man conversation. Er, at least man to alien conversation. I sound like a madman who needs a shrink! But seriously, we’re going to sit down and talk about his needs and his past. Heck, I just might become his shrink!

  2. Jeffrey Barlow says

    Love it. It seems like a lot of my characters tow the line between good and bad because of their weaknesses sometimes , but there’s still the odd ones that need a helping hand. Though the very nature of the antagonists in my trilogy is probably the cause for that effect.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Deeply gray characters or even outright antiheroes are in these days. In contrasting that, it can be tempting to go totally in the opposite direction and create these perfect people. But a little complexity is always worth whatever we *think* we’re giving up in likability.

    • “Toe” the line. Imagine putting your toes on a line. You’ve been forbidden to cross it, so you obey; you’re toeing the line.

      • Frank Booker says

        I know the customary usage, but I’ve often seen malapropisms create good images. This is a case in point for me. I imagine the protagonist with this heavy bag of faults trying to stay on the good side of things, but sometimes, because of the burden, straying over to the dark.

        I once had a student come up with ‘scrapegoat’ by accident. Delicious!

  3. Yeah, that’s it!

    I love to generalize stuff so I can remember it better and here I can say, that all novel writing is about throwing rocks into the stream that is your story/character development.

    A scene starts with a goal and in order to get there you have to get through the conflict which gives you a lesser version of what your character hoped in the first place.

    A character wants something, but in order to please the reader (and yourself) you give him a nut to crack instead.

    My main character is probably the biggest badass in my world. There are two “flavours” of magic and she can wield both. She could be the untouchable, overpowered … and boring stomp-machine nobody wants to read about.
    However she rejects her powers. In her backstory she couldn’t control the sheer power and killed somebody by accident. Now she vows to never use it again. That in itself is a problem, because you “just” have to piss her off really hard and the powers find their own way out. She could solve it by learning to use her powers. Now that’s the biggest problem: In order to never use her powers she has to first use them to every possible extent. Of course she refuses, which results in uncontrolled discharges under stressful conditions.

    I like flaws that make the character think, they can decide to avoid them. But in reality they have to put the finger right into the wound and twist it just in order to get to decide. When everything is over they have changed their perspective so much, they decide differently from their initial point of view.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “A scene starts with a goal and in order to get there you have to get through the conflict which gives you a lesser version of what your character hoped in the first place.”

      This is s fabulous way to describe this!

  4. I sometimes wonder if I went too far the other way with my character from my latest novel. He is a complete victim. Some of the things he does do well are either overlooked or too briefly celebrated. However, he does do something very well in the climax. In fact, he writes to one of his antagonists that he’s going to show him somethings he is good at.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This kind of character can be very relatable, as long as you’re not compromising his likability by making him whiny or a pity-party thrower. One example I really like is Hiccup in the first How to Train Your Dragon. Everybody stomps on him, to an almost abusive extent, in the beginning of the story. But he never feels sorry for himself. He always keeps moving forward. Which means he’s all the more likable for his trials.

    • Does he send out some kind of signals to others, that they can safely overlook him (take credit for his work, and so on)? This would make it more believable–but first must figure out what those signals are.

  5. Kate Flournoy says

    I’ve experienced these problems firsthand. Thank you so much, Mrs. Weiland, for a very insightful article.
    A good trick for discovering whether or not your character has the ‘pedestal problem’ is analyzing YOUR perception of him. If you can’t see him doing normal, ordinary, everyday stuff, (eating breakfast, tying his shoes, tripping over the doorjamb and falling in the mud) chances are you’ve got a problem.
    Our perception of the character shapes who he really is— make sure your perception is realistic. 🙂
    I’ve also noticed that ‘strength’ is not a lack of weakness— it’s just the ability to overcome that weakness.

    • Sara Baptista says

      “Falling in the mud” I will definitely use that trick 😀

    • That’s a good way to put it!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      *Especially* tripping over the door jamb! Just casually envisioning any one of my characters–or someone else’s–doing this, instantly intrigues me with the possibilities for where the scene might be headed. Fascinating, isn’t it? It’s just as simple as that.

      • Kate Flournoy says

        I know! It’s amazing! Plus, I find it absolutely adorable when any one of my characters does something like that. 😉
        That trick has really stopped me from getting stuck in a caricature several times.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I’m reminded of that scene in the second Amazing Spider-Man when Andrew Garfield comes swinging in to see his girlfriend and smashes into the wall. It’s a small but very humanizing moment.

        • Can this trick be used when there’s already a “pet the cat” moment, or it will rise sugat-levels to an extremely dangerous heights?

          • Kate Flournoy says

            If I may make so bold as to give advice… 😉 I would say it depends on what you want the reader’s perception of the character to be. Do you want them to be scared/confused by/wary of/suspicious of him/her? Then you want to be very careful not to overdose on the bumbling side.

            That said, it would be awesome if you could show the character in all their clumsy, bumbling humanity and STILL make the reader afraid of him/her… Not having a lack of humanity in the character but building up a frightening/forbidding/whatever personality around that. 🙂

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Ooh, that raises several interesting possibilities!

    • An author of a UFO book, and a claimed contactee, Daniel somebody, said that he was frightened by the UFO and he stepped backward and tripped over a branch or root; there may have been some comparison to a rabbit. He said that he had more credibility because he said that.

      When we meet the male lead of Sweet Home Alabama, he “trips” on the floor–the top of his shoe rubs on the floor. There are some other deprecating things about him, all of which are cured by the end–oops, spoiler!

  6. Mainly when I work on my characters, I like to avoid cliches (mostly romance cliches) and the like because I find them so boring. But I also like to ignore all ideas of what makes a good character and simply create interesting people. A lot of times I don’t work on them, I just discover them. And I don’t know if they will be what people will consider “strong.” I just know that I find them to be broken, honest people who have both strengths and weaknesses, and I love them all the more for it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      One of the smartest things any author can do is pay attention to what bores *her*–and avoid it like the plague in her own writing.

  7. Sara Baptista says

    Maybe the song that I was hearing helped, but BANG! When I finished reading your post, something strong and inspirational exploded my head about my characters. Sorry, but I have to go and write 🙂

  8. “Pedestal” is oh so right. Or, it’s that it’s always tempting to think of “strong” meaning “strong enough to take on the world”… which means there’s conflict and story in the *action*, but not in the *character.*

    –Which is just what many stories want, of course. It’s standard for simple adventure tales and procedurals, though hopefully the writer will dig deeper.

    The distinction might be between a character who’s “always strong” and one who’s “usually strong” or learning to be strong. It’s those characters who keep us worrying if their strength is going to short-circuit on them just when they need it… if we writers can just fall out of love with making them “all badass, all the time.”

    And of course, Beckett makes a fine Exhibit A. Though I’d give a lot of the blame to sheer fatigue; most TV shows get stale by the seventh year or so. In this case time led to Kate solving her problems… and the show not finding her some new ones. Ah well.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree about show fatigue in poor Beckett’s case. Sadly, it happens, for very obvious reasons, in most shows sooner or later–at least one character ends up with a total personality transplant.

  9. In my trilogy, the three main characters had a flat arc: they knew the truth, and were up against the lie. But I used the positive change arc as subplots partly to introduce weaknesses. It was the only way I could make the characters work for me

    An example is that one heroine could competently wield her family’s influence and her skill as a playwright to take down the bad guys. But in her personal arc, she’s struggled with her preference for being second in command. She has a personal crisis later when she’s put in charge, and all of her preferred mentors are unavailable. Gulp! Fortunately, the second heroine already had a personal crisis, which allowed her to go from “stiff upper lip” to being able to encourage the first heroine.

    I always thought mixing two arcs was a good approach to a series, and I’m surprised “Castle” didn’t take it. I’d heard it was a good series.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally smart decision on your part! Complex arcs that mix change and flag arcs can create some really interesting and realistic characters.

    • Hi Jamie, that’s an interesting story arc. I think strength comes from opportunities to grow. I can see both heroines being strong in their own ways and not in ways they originally thought. I’m excited to hear more about your story. Good luck with the writing process!

  10. It’s funny that you wrote this, because I am currently going through the process of figuring out the fatal flaws of my characters. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how no one wants the perfect character, and as much as we want to write that character, we know it would ruin our works. Our readers want to connect with our characters, and I feel a deeper connection with my characters when they are more human. Thanks for reaffirming the goals of making strong characters by humanizing them!

    By the way, I need to borrow your fork again. Dealing with that pesky elephant again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      *passes the fork–and the knife*

      One thing that keeps me on track is that writing my characters’ flaws is always fun. If I’m not having fun with my writing, it’s usually because my characters are trying to get too perfect on me.

  11. Great post! I’ve been watching House on Netflix recently and thinking a lot about him as a character. I think he qualifies as a strong character (he’s certainly a strong personality!). Definitely moves the plot, complex and real, and deeply flawed. I find him completely fascinating – and sympathetic, despite the fact that he’s not really a very nice person. Part of that I think is in how the other characters react to him – if there wasn’t some part of him worth caring about, they wouldn’t react to him the way they do.

    One of the things I worry about in giving my own characters flaws, is that I will make them unsympathetic and/or unlikable. I find it interesting to study characters like House, who really shouldn’t be likable, but somehow are.

  12. I love your site. It’s simple advice is always exactly what i need to hear. I’m in the middle of rewriting a few background bits of my characters and reworking their flaws, fears and weaknesses to make them more grounded, more interesting. Your posts reaffirm my often shaky self-confidence, as i am not a writer but am diving in for the first time.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If you’re writing, you’re a writer. 🙂 Great to hear you’re finding the blog useful!

  13. Michael Hornbek says

    How do you feel this relates to antagonists?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Same difference, really. It’s the antagonists’ human elements that make them interesting: their uncertainties, their pain, their vulnerabilities.

    • Of course it works for antagonists, too. In our latest story arc that my wife and I composed, something strange happened in this respect. We equipped our young hero with a foster-sister who is more than his match, and the two are fighting a lot. Now, in the first volume, we see her only through his eyes, and the readers accordingly did not like her much. In the second volume, however, she boldly takes on the assassin who has come to eliminate him and by chance meets her first. And here is the curious thing: By the third volume, female readers have often converted to her side. Some even called her the actual heroine of the story and claimed our poor protagonist had deserved everything she had done to him!

      I suppose that makes for complex characters, when you cannot even safely classify them as good or evil. 😉

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Think of Loki in the Thor movies. Everyone loves him more than Thor–despite the fact that he’s the bad guy–because he’s so much more complex and interesting.

        • Michael Hornbek says

          Sure, one of the effects of giving your antagonists multiple facets, is that it makes them more interesting; it can also humanise them and make them relatable to some degree. I guess what I’m thinking is whether that is necessarily something you want to strive for, if you end up, as you say, with the antagonist overshadowing your protagonist? Because at some point the protagonist will defeat him, which might leave the reader disappointed. In some cases the classical one-dimensional Evil Guy seems to have his place. It’s probably a question of whether you want to show the reader a world of black and white or of shades of grey. 🙂

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Someone asked me this recently–about the possibility of an interesting antagonist overshadowing the protagonist. But the answer is simple: just make the protag *more* complex and interesting. :p Sometimes, because we essentially have “permission” to explore the bad guys’ dark sides, we automatically get to consider more interesting aspects of their characters. We think we have to stick to the “light side” with the good guys, and sometimes that ends up turning them into goodie two shoes.

          • Or you give up on the concept of clearcut white hats and black hats. Since our main topic is why people may fall victim to manipulation, we have good characters lured into doing bad things, bad characters “with a standard” or even repenting, but most of the time characters who cannot be that easily classified – and when our dark action-girl is defending her companion against a gang of thugs, on whose side are you?

  14. Sometimes, I can’t see the forest for all the dang leaves getting in my way…I think you’ve just shown me that AHA moment that’ll get me past that “first line fear” of a new storyline I’ve been mulling about on for a couple weeks now,
    “In writing your own strong characters, start with their weaknesses.”
    Thank you!
    I think I see a forest up ahead…gotta go now.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Awesome! Sometimes getting past that first line is the hardest part. Just start writing and see where your broken characters take you. 🙂

  15. LaDonna Ockinga says

    Thanks for providing that key word: dynamic character. So often critique groups misuse strong character, and now we have the word that inserts understanding into the discussion to create a complex character. I love your blogs and have bought your books. You bring more clarity to writing than about any other blogger I read.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m so glad you’re finding the info useful! “Strong” isn’t a bad word, as far as it goes, but it’s so loaded with other connotations, most of which have to do with physical or mental strength–and that kind of strength is usually exclusive of weakness.

  16. Sola Ayodeji says

    I’m writing a women’s fiction book and the main character suffers from anxiety so she’s well aware of her weaknesses. I’ve struggled with how to keep her weaknesses from becoming annoying to readers. It’s not like she’s helpless, but I worry people who don’t understand anxiety, might just label as whiny.

    Of course my book is about character development and with suggestions from a therapists and her friends she becomes braver and starts seeking out experiences that were once obstacles for her, but it’s a relatively slowly process. How do I get readers to stick with her through this growth progress and appreciate her budding strength?

    This book is written in first person present tense so the reader walks through the experiences with the character. I want readers to relate to her and the other characters. I think the themes of the book are that everyone has problems so don’t feel isolated and that you should tap into your personal strength, because everyone has value and a place in the world.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think we, as authors, have this misconception that readers have to be convinced to “stick with” characters while they’re displaying weaknesses. That’s not true at all. Readers are fascinated by the weaknesses. The key is portraying them realistically, balancing them with appropriate strengths, and making sure their actions are properly motivated.

    • I think maybe you can get away with saying anything once, and it is only repetitiveness that creates the sense of annoyance

  17. Steven Duncan says

    KM, Thank You !! Your advice is greatly appreciated as I attempt to move from writer to author.
    Do I see a new Dew ? It looks great, You are truly a beautiful soul

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah. No, that’s not me in the pic. That’s the actress Stana Katic from the TV show Castle.

    • Steven Duncan says

      Looks like you.
      My point remains, you are a beautiful soul.
      Thank you for all your advice on writing. I read all your posts.
      The first book on writing I read was “Outlining Your Novel”

  18. I think one of my largest frustrations is seeing the fetishist-fantasies. They tend to be more blatantly obvious in film, particularly with female characters (almost always in tight clothes, often black vinyl/leather and heels but miraculously kicking ass and sprinting.) But the male fantasy characters are there too, the beefed up action hero who never catches a bullet has all the witty lines, gets the girl and hits every notch on the “man’s man” totem pole. Most of the time you’ll see them slap something on like “he’s an alcoholic” or “she has a violent temper” as the requisite flaw to try and make them 3-dimensional, but there is never any real impact from these things. The alcoholic’s job and relationships never suffer. The violent temper never leads to an arrest or relationships being irreparably damaged. It’s as if they just tacked on “they have a bad haircut that no one likes.” These bother me most because they are really perpetuating negative gender role expectations that are harmful for everyone. It’s an easy trap, I think, to fall into, especially when creating any kind of action-hero character. Being raised on the Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sly Stallone era of films and seeing the influx now of Latex clad super-heroines competing for their slot as “strong badass female” it’s an easy trope to trip into, like an adult, sexy version of the Mary Sue.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree with this. The female versions, especially, tick me off–and I do feel Kate Beckett, in the example, ended up falling into that category there at the end (although the show had the grace and good sense to make fun of it a little bit).

    • This is so true. I was raised on the same diet of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis. In their roles they’re definitely unrealistic, and even borderline mythical in their plot-driven roller coaster fiascos. The action is great but the depth of character is nil. Most of the time they’re the oft clichéd lone star wonders. The erroneous perception of an idealistic, independent flawless “hero” has permeated our culture.

      Then there’s the heroine. *sigh* Does everything have to be sexualized? My beef is mainly with the movies as a visual medium. You always have the miss America type “bombshell” who can kick anybody’s butt, with the lethal intellect of Jason Bourne. Its been done too many times. Conceptually, this flawed potrayal of hero is exactly why we have trouble crafting a flawed hero. It comes back full circle and the stench of idealism wreaks. And we often tend to potray ourselves in this light; that others would have an idealistic view, or perception of who we are. Then this mindset bleeds into our characters. Almost as an extension our wanna-be-this kind of person, the complete opposite of what we are. We’re flawed people, our characters should be jumping off the page. Creating flaws should be easy but it’s not, and this post is why. It’s good medicine!

      A person can be strong yet still be weak in other areas. I love the juxtaposition that Kate speaks about.

      Having said all that, it’s nice once in a while to have a hero who isn’t completely flawed like us! Hah! Maybe that’s why we like em’ so much.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        “It’s nice once in a while to have a hero who isn’t completely flawed like us!”

        This is a totally valid point. There’s a *reason* these stereotypes permeate popular culture. They’re idealized versions of the cool people we’d all secretly like to be. So even as we reject their shallowness, we also enjoy them to some extent.

      • The stereotype that should definitely be avoided is that EVERY character considers your heroine a bombshell, and would fall for her. I applied a sword-swinging heroine in our series, and she looks like it – i.e. more muscles than bust and plain (she never invested care in her looks) -, and yet, here and there she meets a guy who is attracted by her despite her efforts to avoid it, because, you know, tastes of men are simply different. To further counter the stereotype, there is this really gorgeous bombshell in the same story who is used to twist every man around and get what she wants; but we also see her skills fail, and she leaves in red scorn and screams that this mate must be gay! 😉

  19. JC Martell says

    This was a much needed re-enforcing article for me. You always seem to come up with the right topic at the right time.

    I have fallen in love with my perfect main male character as originally created, don’t want to change him, know I must, and working hard with the Negative Trait Thesaurus. But, it’s always “No. Never. Not my Michael”.

    I realized how bad things are when I read Kate Flournoy’s comment. Yes, I can see him eating breakfast or tying his shoes because he would do it perfectly (no milk dripped on that chin – oh my no!) Tripping? Falling? Never.

    Maybe I need to have a talk with him as Benjamin suggests. Being the perfect literary editor Michael is, I’m sure he’ll come up with something perfectly awesome.

    I owe it to him to make him someone the reader will care about. Otherwise, his four months of life will be worth nothing to anyone but me.

    “I’m coming, Michael. We’ll find something to give you value as a character!”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Humor is a good angle. When characters can learn to laugh at themselves, just a little, it can totally transform them, in a very good way.

      • JC Martell says

        Thanks! What a great prompt for me. Inspired an idea for a weakness, AND a transformation.

        A dry sense of humor would be “perfect” for him. The story has a comedic edge; that would not only give an opportunity for some chuckles, but a weakness when it is sometimes at another character’s expense. He takes life and himself way too seriously. What an endearing moment when he learns to laugh at himself. Yea!

        I benefit so much from you articles, the comments, and your replies. Getting bored with the story, then there’s some little spark that bursts into a great idea and gets me excited again.

    • Was Michael born perfect? How did he get to be that way? How does he go about learning a new skill–when he throws a dart for the first time, does he hit a bullseye? Or does he stand there and practice for hours on end without eating or sleeping until he hits bullseyes consistently? Does he relentlessly seek and eliminate flaws in himself? Why does he do this? When did he start, and in response to what?

      • Suddenly I’m reminded of the parade scene in “The Music Man”:

        “There’s my Jimmy!” (who also had no flaws and played his instrument perfectly, at least in the eyes of his mother)

  20. Of course, the concept of a “super” character can be a flaw in itself. What about someone who is good at everything, but it’s because they “have to” be good at everything? No one in this life ever outdistances their brokenness (or, as I heard one person call it, “our structural defects”). I can create an awareness of them and put in place plans for mitigating the circumstances that result whenever they raise their heads, but I never get rid of them. I am painfully aware of my faults… but they are a part of me, as they have to be of my characters.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s kinda Sherlock Holmes’s angle (although Lord knows he’s got plenty of objective flaws too). He’s someone who’s so perfect in some areas of his life, he’s obnoxious. :p

  21. They don’t take credit for anything good he does but they do momentarily bask in his glory. When they’re done though, they go back to making his life unbearable.

  22. I’ve been accused of writing characters who are too flawed and always showing them at their worst. I like your advice to start with weaknesses and build strengths around them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s also good to try to balance the weaknesses in the beginning with some really interesting, compelling traits, to pull readers in.

  23. Maybe we cheer on the anti-hero because we can relate most to the conflicted nature of the character. Face it, Han Solo is much more interesting than Luke and Obi-wan… until, of course, The Empire Strikes Back. Then we get to see some of that good/evil veneer slip off.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think there’s an element of vicarious pleasure as well–as we watch characters such as Han mouth off and do things that most of us are too “proper” (or scared) to try in our real lives.

  24. Regarding “perfect characters” I’ m afraid authors simply don’t know how to properly wield them. Let’s say the perfect character is wearing the perfection as if it was a full suit of armor (The Lie). Shouldn’t the antagonistic force crack it open, blow after blow forcing the protag to face reality till our Mary Sue stop pretending?

  25. Thanks for this article! I really liked your point about how a strong character is a character that moves the plot – so true. I’m outlining a novel right now, and I’m trying to let my characters affect the plot instead of just the plot carrying the characters. It’s harder than I thought it would be, and I’m still trying to think of good weaknesses for some of my characters, but I’m learning a lot in the process.

  26. Virginia Testa says

    I’m writing a story with a MC who’s basically more or less the same as Kate Beckett with a few differences but I really like her. She’s strong, tough, FBI agent but has a rough past because her parents died when she was 14.

    P.S. I’m in love with that TV show!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I adored Beckett in the early seasons. As an INTJ myself, I thought she was a fabulous example of a realistic INTJ woman. It’s just that the character gets messed up as the story gets dragged out in the later seasons.

  27. Thank you for reminding everyone that strength does NOT mean being a badass!

    One of my favorite characters of my creation is the complete opposite of a badass. She cries. She’s afraid of men. She’s a self-professed coward. She still gets her things done, because a) she doesn’t get a choice, b) she’s clever enough to work with what she *does* have. Since she’s slim, weak and not, shall we say, very brave, she compensates it with cleverness and underhanded tactics. :p

    I honestly think that is far more interesting than the millionth warrior princess who can take a punch like a bro and defeat men three times bigger than them because, hey, they’re badasses amirite?

    • Absolutely. Though the warrior princess may work if she remains just that, a warrior. Mine is a highly skilled fighter, smart and wicked but no supergirl: being a pure-bred underdog, she is lacking basic education, though quick to grasp new data, and worse, she is far away from her native territory so that she sometimes spoils her mission out of simple ignorance. It seems that our female readers could very well relate to her imperfections, and that scene in which she excels in fending off a gang of thugs by swiftness and innovative combat tactics (like setting her opponent’s beard aflame) was very much appreciated by them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree! Fear is almost always fascinating. It’s way more interesting that bravery, when we come right down to it.

  28. Well, they got hitched.

    It seems few writers know how to write deeper relationships than infinite flirtation (“Smallville” anywone?) without getting boring.

    So, when someone gets fired or leave the show they grab the “so happy together” TV-trope to get some meagre romance in there (I’ve seen that one so many times my eyes are bleeding!)

    If you want to see shows where they know how to write romantic relationships I’d recommend “Chuck”, or “One Tree Hill.”

    Especially “Chuck,” where the romantic development is pretty epic, going through all the phases without coping out to quick fixes. I’d call it full contact romance! (No pun intended!) 😀

    They’re even able to give “Captain Awesome” some serious problems and character flaws! How awesome isn’t that?!

  29. I have an aubt that watched Castle I’ve never watched it, but it must’ve been good. I should check it out sometime, and my character Amelia has strengths and flaws, but she gradually overcomes two of them since you don’t want a character not to overcome them.

  30. My character has a massive pride issue, seeing the future all the time, so he can really plan ahead and do his absolute best all the time has taught him that he is always right. . . A fault that will take so much from him he will be broken on the rock when he realizes how his pride lead him from the will of God.

    Now, I’ve got a huge favour to ask – can someone send this article to JJ Abrams, who said that Rey needs to be invincible for a reason and Kevin Fiege who believes Captain Marvel should be perfectly powerful and stronger than any superhero in the Avengers universe. . .

  31. michaelcapriola says

    A few years ago I wrote a 10-page fantasy spoof featuring a powerful female protagonist — competent, confident, wielding top-notch magical power. Last year, when I decided to flesh this out into a novel, I had to analyze the character’s personality traits to find her weaknesses — overconfidence, insisting that her ideas and plans were better than than everyone else’s, etc. And I put her in situations where her power was useless if she was taken by surprise, and she sometimes had to be rescued by her teammates. Along the way she begins to learn a little humility and to listen to other people’s ideas. (Nothing like fighting for one’s life against a powerful opponent while waist-deep in swamp water to teach a person some humility. Or finding oneself powerless in the face of a supernatural being for learning how to swallow one’s pride.)


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