It’s a fact of life that people are imperfect. In real life, we have flaws, insecurities and phobias that can sometimes take over our daily lives and become a part of us. When writing fiction, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of creating the perfect protagonist that is always confident, self-aware and makes no mistakes. However, it is important to remember that the flawless protagonist will feel unreal to the readers. There are several reasons why the protagonist needs to be imperfect.
1. Flaws bring the protagonist to life
As was already stated above, flaws make characters feel real. If everything your protagonist touches turns to gold, he or she is not real anymore, but a cardboard with facial features. Adding imperfections alongside redeeming qualities to a protagonist’s character will bring him/her to life. The protagonist no longer feels unreal and two dimensional. Instead, the protagonist is real, made of flesh and blood, and has good qualities and flaws just like anybody else. The protagonist can be you, me, or someone we know, which brings us the second reason.
2. They help the reader connect with the protagonist
When writing fiction, it’s important to make the reader connect on a deep emotional level with the protagonist. May be the reader will sympathize with the protagonist’s struggles, or agree with some of their decisions, but either way, both the reader and the protagonist will be “on the same page.” The protagonist becomes a person we might even see ourselves in, which makes us root for the individual and demand a first row seat to see how he/she overcomes obstacles and achieves goals.
3. Flaws create internal conflict
Internal conflict is one of the biggest tools in fiction writing. Conflict, in any form, moves the story forward, whether the protagonist is trying to overcome a fear of heights or is hunted by the antagonist – the end result is the same: the protagonist has a problem that needs to be solved. Combining the internal with external conflict will bring both the story and the protagonist to life by giving them purpose. And the more the protagonist has to struggle, the better. The reader will witness how the protagonist tries and fails, learns from his/her mistakes and continues working towards a goal, while dealing with his/her internal conflicts. And when the hero or heroine finally succeeds in the end, the success feels deserved rather than just given.
4. They help with character development
One of the key rules for creating a good story is to have the protagonist change and develop throughout the journey. Overcoming a fear, or changing something within themselves, they become a different person in the end because of what they’ve experienced. You have to show to the readers that the protagonist has the ability to change. Change is a part of life. The protagonist gains wisdom and acts upon it; he/she grows and change within the story. It’s what brings the person closer to reality and makes them human.
5. Flaws make the protagonist interesting
The combination of redeeming qualities and imperfections create a character that has many layers. It gives you the opportunity to develop each of the redeeming qualities and overcome the flaws one by one in your story. It makes the reader want to read more and more about the person. They are interested not just in the resulting wisdom, but also, how the protagonist gained that wisdom. Put an ordinary person into an extraordinary situation where they have to overcome a weakness and battle with unfavorable odds, and you capture your audience and keep them on the edge, as they become eager to witness the protagonist’s success.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published on e-Books India (the former name of Writing Tips Oasis) in January 2015.