Giving Your Characters Blemishes

This doesn’t mean covering your character’s face with adulthood acne or warts. But it doesn’t mean all of your characters should have clear skin and picture-perfect white smiles either.

Giving a character a distinctive trait or traits, whether physical, mental or emotional, makes them more relatable for the reader.

Consider this character:

Daphne stood tall and erect, her slender body succinctly outlined by her flowing blue dress. She waited beneath the awning to avoid the rain. She sighed. Once again, she had forgotten her umbrella.

No matter, really. Sooner or later, some man or other, whether handsome or not, would come along and offer her his umbrella. Her smooth face and sapphire blue eyes guaranteed it.

And she would accept the offer, of course, knowing it gave the impression to the male that she was interested. When nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider this character:

Though short in stature, Colt was built solid: concrete wall solid. His tattered grimy flannel shirt stretched tautly across his chest. Faded denim jeans bulged from muscular legs, even though the jeans appeared to have been used for car waxing and worn afterwards without a good washing. His sandy brown hair was long and askew about his face. He wasn’t old but his face gave the impression he was old beyond his years. His hazel eyes suggested a tired wisdom he would sooner live without. A raspy sound issued from his hand brushing across the salt and pepper beard on his face. He was a handsome man, though none could tell past the grime. A shower, shave and a haircut would not improve his outlook but it would well improve the way others looked at him.

Even so, none of these features compared with the constant twitch of his right eye. One would think he was winking in a suggestive manner if one didn’t know any better.

What can you tell right away from the description of these characters?

Daphne may appear picture-perfect, but right away you know that Daphne is shallow and superficial. She’s confident her good looks will get her the things she needs as well as the things she wants. She obviously doesn’t hesitate to use them, particularly in regards to the opposite sex.

Daphne’s good looks become her blemishes. Sooner or later she is bound to learn that good looks don’t get her everything.

Colt, on the other hand, is fraught with obvious blemishes, from his slovenly appearance to his twitching eye. You get the impression that Colt has a story. His character is all the more interesting for his blemishes: why is he so slovenly when he obviously takes care of his body? He must take care of his body if he is so muscular. And why does his eye constantly twitch? What causes that?

Wonderful examples of imperfect (by society’s definition) characters can be found in the works of Dean Koontz.

In By the Light of the Moon, the character Shep O’Connor suffers from Asperger Syndrome. In One Door Away From Heaven, Mickey Bellsong is a recovering alcoholic who meets up with Leilani, a little girl with a brace on her leg and a deformed hand.

These three characters are instrumental to their respective stories.

Shep provides a little comic relief when he is a walking thesaurus. But he also paints the picture of frustration for his older brother Dylan who is his caregiver. When the two undergo serious psychological changes after being given a shot of a mysterious fluid by a stranger, the relationship between the brothers is taken to an entirely new level as is Shep’s character.

The relationship between Mickey and Leilani is fraught with humor when the two meet. But it is humor which hides each of the characters’ worst fears. Leilani fears her stepfather is going to kill her. Mickey fears herself more than anything else. Little do these two characters know, the humor also hides their courage and strengths as well. The shortcomings of all these characters is evident from minute one. It is a wonderful place to start as the reader experiences the growth of these characters and inevitably grows with them.

Picture-perfect characters are all fine and good. But characters with flaws are the characters readers will best relate to. An imperfect character makes for a stronger reader-character relationship.

Those flaws in the hero or protagonist make him or her human. It helps the reader realize that he or she can be the hero, too.

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2 Comments

Filed under Writing

2 responses to “Giving Your Characters Blemishes

  1. robinpletcher

    At first I thought you meant just physical flaws, which I think is a really good angle. But I like how you incorporated personality blemishes as well. I think they definitely help to create a more relatable, 3 dimensional character. Nice work!

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