Nobody’s perfect. How often have you heard that old saw? The thing about sayings like this is they’re generally true. And when it comes to creating the main character of your novel you should definitely keep this in mind. As you put together the character that will dominate your story, you should construct her with one or more flaws. There are several reasons to not have a perfect protagonist.
Protagonists with character flaws are more realistic. Bet you’ve never gotten to know someone well without discovering a few warts. Besides, perfect heroes are pretty dull. Ever watch a movie in which the hero is always righteous and upstanding? At some point you were probably glad each time the villain make his appearance on the screen.
The primary reason you want a main character with flaws is it gives you a better opportunity to create a character arc. A character arc is the change in your main character over the course of your story. Its also called an inner journey. She starts out as one type of person and as the story develops we see the character slowly become a different person. Typically, we see the character grow. She matures. Becomes more complex, perhaps more sophisticated.
By giving your main character a flaw you set her up for an inner journey to overcome that shortcoming. Let’s look at an example from a previous blog. A couple of weeks back I talked about making your main character three dimensional. (See the previous blog “See Your Protagonist Through 3-D Glasses“.) In that blog I gave an example of a character with polydactyly (an extra finger). She is angry at her mother for not correcting the deformity when she was a child and is so ashamed of it that she’s reluctant to become romantically involved with anyone. You could in the course of the story have her meet someone who doesn’t care about her deformity and as a result she comes to realize that true love cares more about a person’s inner beauty. Maybe a little cheesy, but you get the idea.
Of course, we see character arc in many classic novels. In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov, a murderer transforms into a man of moral conviction to the point that in the end he turns himself in to the authorities. In Hugo’s Les Miserables, Jean Valjean starts out as a violent criminal only to become a loving, caring father.
In my recent medical thriller, The Peril Protocol, my protagonist, Hope Allerd, starts out consumed with hatred for the murderer of her parents, then for the murderer of hospital personnel. Over the course of the novel she must come to terms with this shortcoming to save her life.
By giving your protagonist a character flaw they must overcome you create a richer, deeper, and more interesting hero. I wish you good writing.