Your character shouldn’t be perfect

How can you measure what makes a character perfect? It means to be without flaws, but when there are around 7 billion people in the world, what do we consider flaws?

Different cultures, different generations, different belief-systems, different individuals, all have different opinions and ideas of what a flaw is.

For example, being a workaholic can be seen as good (you’re driven and responsible), or it can be seen as bad (you don’t enjoy life because you spend too much time at the office or checking your phone). Being a healthy person is great—as long as you’re not critical of others for not sharing your same activities and diet.

There are so many different standards for perfection: the perfect looks, the perfect job, the perfect salary, the perfect friend, the perfect partner, the perfect child…Yet for every person who thinks about those things, a different image or set of parameters will come up.

So, not only is defining perfection an impossible task, I also think it’s kind of pointless. I don’t like the idea of perfect characters in any media.

Imagine a perfect character (whatever that means to you). When they face problems, they solve them right away because they’re very smart. They are mature and don’t fall for any tricks or traps because they aren’t the least bit naïve. They have a sense of humor, perfect timing, and they never say the wrong thing. They never over-react, they are measured and think before they do something, and they never make mistakes. All their assumptions are correct because they’re based on all the information the character has, and they are a constant voice of reason. Sure, a character like this could be interesting and laudable, except…

Where’s the conflict? Where’s the growth? If a character doesn’t make a single mistake, how humane are they? If a character never hurts anyone (by making wrong assumptions, for example), then there’ll be no room for introspection, for asking for forgiveness, for learning from the errors of their way. And someone who knows everything may be useful for exposition, but they also have to lack other facts or capacities to be relatable.

Because if a character is perfect, how can a reader cheer for them when none of the obstacles will represent a challenge or a chance for growth?

So, yes, giving your character skills or good qualities is important, but keep in mind that, no matter what genre, flaws are also a big deal (whatever they mean to you).

Moira Daly

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