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Five fatal flaws of character creation

by Camille Pruvost

Avid readers can attest that sometimes you’ll find a book with a fantastic plot, only to find that the main character is incredibly annoying. Now, sometimes you just don’t mesh well with a particular personality type, but other times your discontent is actually the fault of the author and could have been avoided. The characters we choose as writers can make or break a story. The following are four common mistakes writers make that we can benefit from in our creative writing endeavors:

 

  • Too perfect or too flawed
    • These characters do not come across as real people. No one is perfect/flawed 100% of the time; a character built this way does not feel authentic and makes it difficult for the reader to connect. Be sure to humanize your characters. Real people have both strengths and weaknesses.
  • Caricatures
    • Giving your character a quirk (i.e., sneezing whenever they are nervous) can be a wonderful way to make them unique, relatable, or funny. However, sometimes quirks end up overpowering the core identity of the character. Be sure your character’s quirks enhance an already existing personality. Ask yourself, where does her quirk come from? What aspect of her personality does this quirk bring to light?
  • Falling into stereotypes
    • As writers, we must be sure our characters remain individuals and do not fall into stereotypes. If you see that your character is starting to fall into this cliché trap, then it means you have to dig deeper into their identity. Here are a few questions you can ask to go more in depth: Who is this person? What values does she hold? What makes her human?
  • Never faces justice
    • When everything always works out nicely and the main character never has to atone for his or her actions, the reader gets frustrated. The worst part is, there is no place to release the frustration. Although there may be times when you want the reader to feel this way, the feeling should never interfere with the reader’s willingness to continue engaging with the novel.
  • Illogical behavior
    • When a character begins acting inconsistently with himself (that is, acting unlike the way the writer has established him as a character), the reader can get confused and may be jarred out of the magic of the plot. Consider the past actions of your character: Are his or her current decisions consistent with decisions made in the past? If you find yourself not able to determine this, try getting an outside perspective.

 

Of course there are many more ways a reader could disconnect, but these are some common pitfalls to watch out for when developing character identity. Remember, readers connect to characters who reflect reality. Always strive to be authentic and realistic. Happy writing!

 

Camille Pruvost is a Christian Science nurse in her junior year majoring in music and minoring in religion. Her music ministry serves to inspire faith and to facilitate ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. This summer she is traveling with Principia on the Ireland abroad.

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