Characters in fiction come in all kinds of disguises, from all kinds of backgrounds with varying goals. There is no right or wrong way to create our characters. With that said, there is still an ever lurking issue in the background… one which threatens the relatability of characters in books everywhere. I’m speaking about the Mary Sue/Gary Stu epidemic.
The drive to make our characters the best we possibly can has left us holding a bag full of perfect, “best in the world” characters that no one can relate to. Being able to relate to characters, to see ourselves in them, is how we connect with them and their journey. How can we do that if the character is a glistening, celestial being that glows with a brilliance to which even the sun pales in comparison?
That’s why it’s important for our characters to be flawed. I’m not suggesting that you have a completely flawed character leading your story, just that they’re flawed enough to be relatable to the average Jane and Joe.
Most of these Mary Sues and Gary Stus are the most attractive in their worlds and highly gifted in any and all things they attempt; model figures that are envied by all people they come across. The stories they live out is that they are then put in a situation to which they aren’t familiar, only to become the best in that as well. I mean, who can relate to that?
I have slipped in the shower in the last week, and locked myself out of my own apartment in the last month. I constantly misplace my phone, say the wrong things, lose my temper, spill things like its a profession, and forget to pick up toilet paper when shopping (which I just realized I did yet again, just a few minutes ago). Give me a character like that!
The story should be fantastic and out of this world; I expect the story to be completely different than my own life. But the characters should be flawed, even if just a little, so that I can somehow see myself in their shoes. I want that escapism to help forget the mundane activities of my day to day. Nobody wants to read about Superman doing laundry perfectly, separating the darks from the lights and using tumble dry when appropriate.
So what flaws should we give our characters? They can be anything; they can be physical, emotional, or even behavioral. A clumsy person that overcomes their anxiety about screwing up to save the day! Now that’s someone I can relate to.
Let’s just keep our characters real and down to earth; even if they happen to be from Jupiter and have a third eye, I want to be able to relate to them. Give them some quirk that makes them flawed. I want to connect with them, which only helps me feel a bond with the writer.
Until next time: Don’t be afraid to put your own flaws in your characters. If anything it’ll make your writing stronger, as you will understand where they’re coming from. So tell me in the comments below… What flaws do your characters have?
And now I have to message my wife, and ask her to stop at the store on her way home to get some toilet paper.