character flaws [ˈkariktər flôs]: Stuff that make up characters that we end up having complicated feelings for.
I was scrolling through Maggie Stiefvater’s tumblr the other day (it’s become somewhat of a habit ever since I started reading The Raven Cycle series last December), when something grabbed my attention. A sentence that stayed with me hours after I read the post. Someone had asked Stiefvater her thoughts on Vladimir Nabokov’s stance that a good reader is one who is impartial to the story and the characters in it. Along with her response regarding what she expects from a good reader and what she thinks about Nabokov’s stance as a writer herself, Stiefvater went on to point out the things that makes a good reader. She said, ‘remember that a flawed character is not necessarily a bad character.’
|Garfield only be a troublemaker of sorts. (Source)|
Flawed is Just More Interesting
|Everyone has those. (Source)|
Duality is Key
|Lazy is not a flaw, it’s someone else’s idea. (Source)|
How to Characterize?
|Say yes to smartass. (Source)|
So yes, flawed isn’t (necessarily) bad but flawed is engrossing and it makes the reader uncomfortable which is subjective and may not be everyone’s thing. While bad is just bad, flawed is messy and complicated and also many not be everyone’s thing (especially the deeply flawed). However, what Stiefvater says is also true, ‘there’s as much universality in emotional resonance as there is in style preference.’
Jess @myreadingdress says
Fantastic discussion, Sana! I'm with you on this one. I appreciate an intricately flawed character because perfection, in my eyes, does not exist. And if it did then where would the variation be? My favourite part of reading is exploring the different sides to morals, especially authors who play with ideas which may not necessary be deemed correct in the eyes of society, which means we never see them unfold. Until they do on paper. I think it's so important to see all the variables laid out on the table.
I always dislike the dull, noble characters because I just don't understand where their character could go. I preach character development. Flawed seems to nurture development with greater ease because there's scope for the character to branch into–there's the exploration of personal morals, societal expectations and the whole inner battle. And I love that.
Joséphine Simone says
GARFIELD! AH, my favourite cartoon character of all time right there. He's such a horrible and lazy cat and yet I love him soooo. How's that for loving a flawed character yet thinking he is perfect? xD
Anyway, flawed characters—I am in complete agreement with you about flawed vs bad characters. A character can be so contrary to what I stand for yet I'll still like the book if there's a strong development and if I'm led to see what makes this character tick and how they come to pick certain actions over others.
If every character were flawless, there wouldn't be very many interesting books, I'm sure. And that would indeed be very sad. So here's to flawed characters who pull us into their fictional worlds! 🙂
Danielle Cox says
While I don't like my characters to be PERFECT, I'll be the first to admit that overly flawed characters and I don't get along. Or certain flaws will really set me off. It's probably not the best attitude for me to have, but I'm discovering more and more that if I don't like a character, the whole book usually sinks… and typically it's their flaws that will cause that to happen. Does this make me a bad reader? Lol. It's not that I want them to be 100% good, because that's boring, but the flaws have to at least be relatable or understandable and not annoying.
As far as bad vs. flawed. Hmm. It makes me think of Queen Lavana from the Lunar Chronicles. Is her book going to make us see her in a different light so she's not 100% evil? Tbh, I'm not even sure if I want that! I want to go on hating her. But three dimensional "villains" are always more interesting; I guess I'm not sure if I want to see them redeemed. It all depends on the context.
Great discussion. I think I've started to ramble.
Asti Choquette says
You sound really smart in this post. At points, too smart for me to handle. 😉
I love flawed characters. To me, it's definitely more of a journey. Like you said, it's sometimes easy to understand good characters, characters who want to do the right thing, because it matches what we know and what we're told in life. But those characters who break the rules, who want to do the things that we can't ever imagine doing ourselves, those are the interesting characters. What is making them do what they're doing? What has pushed them to that point? Will they ever change their ways? I find it endlessly fascinating.
And even those characters who are good, you know, the ones who do want to do the good things, they can be flawed too. We're all flawed. It's a flawed world. Flaws flaws flaws flaws flaws.
I LOVE flawed characters! I really don't care for those perfect characters that are beautiful, smart, powerful etc. You can't be everything. Everyone has good and not-so-good sides and I think it's great when characters are realistic like that. I'd rather read about an interesting personality like Celeana, because it's someone I feel connected with.
It's the same with: making bad choices doesn't make you a bad person 🙂
What a great post! While I agree that flawed characters are what make the story interesting, even better if the protagonists are the ones that are flawed! I find it so refreshing to have a main character I don't see eye to eye with, but then as I watch them grow and learn, I learn to accept them too. It takes the reader on a journey and more often than, we learn something about ourselves along the way. However, that being said, I do have issues with overly flawed characters (like Danielle above me). Take, for instance, both Dash and Lily in the book "Dash & Lily's Book of Dares" – I hated both characters because their flaws were sky high and got too much for me to handle. Everyone has flaws here and there, but sometimes I feel like I'm being made to feel a certain way about a character based on how many flaws they have and bad choices they make, and that's just not cool with me.
The Avid Reader says
Great post! I love reading about flawed characters. I hated both characters in Gone Girl, but I loved reading their story!