Your Hero’s Moment of Weakness

Many of us writers want our hero or main character’s to be inspirational. For them to make a lasting impression in that they will stand the test of time. So, we want them to be strong, intelligent, and attractive individuals. Basically, we want them to be everything we can imagine as the prefect hero. However, if you want the story to be realistic – then you must accept that your character needs to have flaws to be relatable.

I wrote some time back about character flaws. I wanted to expand on the topic and tie it in with your character’s personal journey as well as the roadblocks and climax of the story.

They can still have that personality trait or physical trait that sets them apart, but what if you insert a momentary hitch in their journey as in a moment of self doubt, depression, terror, misunderstanding, or jealousy as they approach the climax of the story. That hero will not be strong, intelligent, and attractive as we all wish, but they will be real.

For example:

Say your character is a great warrior who has a list of achievements longer than they are tall. It is okay to have that same character deal with moments of self doubt – it would be even more intriguing to have those moments of self doubt on the edge of battle or in battle, as if the warrior believes that  any moment they are going to fail and cost their own life. The character is assumed to be brave and strong just because they are a warrior with many battles fought. However, the flaw is self doubt. Another idea for that same scenario is for the brave warrior to face someone they are terrified of.

Say you’re writing a crime novel – have your hero be terrified of a gun because a close friend or family member was killed by a gun shot wound. Have that character have to raise the gun as a matter of life or death – I’ll leave it to you on if they pull the trigger. But having that internal debate and struggle will make them relatable.

To have your character as a perfect individual all the time with a clean emotionless journey will become boring to the readers and your character may seem arrogant and cocky.

A professional example:

Harry Potter (yes, I’m referencing again): in the Deathly Hallow’s when Harry realizes he must die to kill the Horcrux living inside him. There are a few moments when he’s making his way towards the Forbidden Forest that he wants someone to see or stop him. He wants Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Weasleys, and Luna in a wish to see them one last time or them to see him. Neville and then Ginny make actual appearances as he’s leaving, and lastly, his parent’s, Sirius, and Lupin in their ghostly forms. Harry was weak in those moments, but he was strong and brave as well. He didn’t want to die, but yet, he kept moving knowing that he was going to.

L. R. Mauck

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Weekend Challenge #20

challengeTo related with my other post today (What’s in a Name?), I would like this challenge to make you think a bit more.

For your current WIP or a story you are thinking of, chose one of your characters and tell me why you named your character as such. Does their name relate to the story? A physical or personality trait? ect.


My current WIP has a sub-character that will influence the main character throughout the story. I chose to name him “Harrow”. Harrow means to “cause distress to”. He will be a father-like figure to the main character but his own views of the world they live in is of a twisted and hurtful nature. So, his guidance to the main character will cause distress.


Also, I was busy last Friday and away from computers and internet access, so there was no Weekend Challenge #19.

What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

rose

I do not think I’m alone in this, but choosing a name for a character is almost as trying as naming your child. There’s a weight and pressure that accompanies the character that needs to tell of their personality and their story.

Choosing a particular name for your character can give added meaning to the overall story. It can even be a certain trait that you want the character to live up to their name.

What to consider when choosing a character name:

  • A particular trait (physical or personality) the character lives up to
  • Historical reference (mirroring passed historical figures or a name from an era that your story is taking place in)
  • Symbolism
  • Name meaning
  • Location – where is the character from? Is the name to represent their birth country?
  • Heritage – race, religion, culture, etc.

For example:

Belle – Belle means beauty. In Beauty and the Beast – both cartoon and recent movies, they point out that Belle’s name means beauty and that she is beautiful herself, hence the name. It draws a contrast to the theme/plot of the story that you need to look inside a person to see who they truly are.

Also in the same movie(s) – the character Lefou – I mentally replace his name with “The Fool”. It’s fitting. He’s the stooge to the great warrior Gaston.

Harry Potter – Harry means: to torment by or as if constant attack (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary). The whole series, Harry is constantly under attack from Voldemort.

Also in the Harry Potter series – Draco Malfoy – “Mal” is Latin for evil, ill will. Other words that co-relate: malevolent, maleficent, malice, malignant and so forth. Draco is not necessarily evil in the books, but he’s not innocent either. He’s a bully and a character that is a victim of circumstance in how he was raised by a cruel father, much like Harry’s cousin Dudley.

Another name that has meaning: Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. He his introduced to the Bennet family and Elizabeth as a good character of interest. However, as the story plays out, he lives up to his name: he is wicked.

Twilight series: Edward Cullen: Edward’s character was supposed to originate from the early twentieth century. Edward was a common name for that period. That is an example of historically dating the name.

These are just a few examples of how author’s placed more thought behind their names than just choosing a favorite name. I will admit that sometimes as a character becomes more developed that it is okay to change the name. I have many times.

A side note: If you are looking for something completely unique or even fantasy – look up names that mean what you want the character to stand for. Then change a letter in the name. Say you want to use Belle – but it’s over done and obvious – so add a letter or change a letter: Bella, Elle, Bellia, Belliah, Aella, Cella, etc. You know what you want and what the name is to symbolize. So, get creative.

L. R. Mauck

Non-Traditional Characters

This is one of my “write outside your comfort zone” posts. Non-traditional characters is my own term when I refer to non-white characters. This is not about any social issues or working with my own personal tangent of motives. No. This topic comes from an open need for many different races in the world who do not have access to mainstream or highly available books within their races / cultures.

I saw a post on twitter of an article of how only a small number of books have the lead character to be people of color, Asian, Hispanic, or fill-in-the-blank. Even less books are written by the same groups. I’ve noticed that a lot of agencies are requesting books of the minorities and of the LGBTQ communities.

I’ll go a step further and include characters with disabilities: whether they are physically hindered, emotionally, or mentally. I, myself, am dyslexic. And as a writer, it’s a pain to deal with and I’m sure you, the reader, have noticed several grammar errors that I’ve failed to find.

When writing of different cultures, races, LGBTQ, or disabilities that you are not familiar with, you need to do a LOT of research. You need to actually get to know the culture/people. Cook the food, listen to the music, go to parades, volunteer at camps for special needs, watch you tube videos, find newspapers/articles, interview people, and so forth.

A couple of weeks ago I posted some links to Tedtalks videos. I highly encourage you to watch the last one listed “The Danger of a Single Story”. Chimamanda Adichie is from Africa and she spoke of how her culture has been misrepresented. The best part of the video was when she spoke of her roommate in college who wanted to listen to music from Adichie’s home culture and that the roommate was disappointed when Adichie pulled out a Mariah Carey cd.

I’m not saying you need to stop what you are doing and change everything you write just to include a larger diversified group, but I am saying that you need to consider it. This is a chance for you to grow as a writer and as an individual. Learn and expand your understanding. We are all human. Don’t limit yourself and each other. Your characters are not going to fit inside a neatly wrapped box. We all have different traits that make us unique individuals, so should your characters.

A couple of examples that were successful:

Stephanie Myers with the Twilight Saga brought out the Quileute Nation on the La Push reservation. Jacob Black was one of the main characters was Native American. And then Jacob’s father, Billy, was wheelchair bound. Billy Black was a strong sub character who played several important roles throughout the series. His disabilities did not limit his character, nor should they.

Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Percy Jackson is the main character who has dyslexia, but with a plot twist it’s because he can read/translate Greek. Riordan said that he wrote the character because his own son was dyslexic and wanted a character that could relate to his son.

L. R. Mauck

Road Blocks / Challenges

roadblockImagine reading a book all about sunshine and daises. The book is happy, free from drama, and no one argues, the characters have an easy, open path – basically a perfect Utopia. Would a book like this seriously interest you? Would you stay up hours after your bedtime trying to find out what happens next? Could you relate to the characters?

The answer would be no to those questions from most readers. That type of book may appeal to a few, but unless it is a very well written novel, there’s really nothing there to hold in the reader. The characters need to have something that breaks that peaceful journey. As I’ve wrote before (Character Growth), a character needs to have a growth develop throughout the book. There needs to be roadblocks or challenges in the pathway in order to accomplish that.

These roadblocks don’t need to be big car wrecks with life threatening injuries every so many pages, but can be minor things like the character has ill fitted shoes for the day, or left their cell phone at home and they were supposed to have a big meeting. Just something that makes the character relatable and human. Or these challenges can be something that the character must continually face – a bad relationship with someone they must interact with – a co-worker, a spouse, a teacher, etc. Having multiple roadblocks / challenges throughout the story helps the character grow as well as to keep the readers interests.

QUOTE 3

L. R. Mauck

The Story Catalysis

ballNow that you have your basic understanding of your character to go with your story, you need a catalysis–a turning point–for your character to begin their journey. This can be something that happens to the main protagonist or a sub-character (the catalyst character) that gets the story moving. The catalysis can be anything from something major like the character moving to a new place or something minor/common as in meeting someone new or can be something dramatic such as a car wreck or a death. It can be something that can propel the character into the start of the story plot or it could reveal something about the character – their personality or a flaw.

A way to challenge yourself – think of something outside the book. Use something that you have no experience in and it forces you to do research on that item/topic. Even if you do not officially use it for your book, at least now you’ll know something extra. Keep learning, keep growing.

Examples:

  • When Harry Potter got his letter in the first book
  • Katniss Evergreen (Hunger Games) took her sisters place
  • When Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) over hears Mr. Darcy’s insult to her (starting with the theme of the story – his pride) and she confronts him soon after (her prejudice).
  • In Romeo and Juliet – in Act One Scene Five – when Romeo and Juliet actually meet. It changes the course of the play.

L. R. Mauck

Character Flaws

quote 2I’ve already mentioned a few times about character flaws. So, if you are confused on what a character flaw is: in the most basic terms a character flaw is a character (main character and/or others) in the novel to have something that is unique to them such as a physical features or a personality traits. It doesn’t necessary have to be a negative flaw, but can be positive. Having a flaw makes the character human – relatable.

For example in the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter – glasses, messy hair, green eyes, scar, hero complex and his temper. Ron Weasley – sixth son, red hair, freckles, poor-ish upbringing and then jealousy being his biggest negative flaw. Hermione Granger – bushy hair, big front teeth, bookish and her loyalty.

As you can see that several of these above are not negative. But each play a major part in the series, even to the point that it brings conflicts between the characters several different times.

Your character flaw can even be something VERY unique to one specific character. For example: Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory. He has a certain spot he always sits and he knocks three times before going into other peoples apartments/offices. The show’s writers have developed this that it’s not annoying to the audience, but it’s funny each time. You can do that in your book. Find a flaw and twist it so that it is fun to write about.

In Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tokien, I truly believe he wrote one of the best supporting characters with conflicting personalities – Gollum/Sméagol. He is an innocent creature that had been corrupted by the ring of power, causing him to develop the Gollum identity.  As the reader, you can understand each of his actions and see the conflict the character does. We sympathize with him. He does wants to do what is right when he’s Sméagol like helping Fredo and Samwise as they travel through the mountains then across the marshes, and up the stairs. Even when trying to hide them from the Ringwraiths at Minas Morgul. But that corruption is too deep and he plots openly on trying to get back the ring. He uses Shelob to try, but fails. He does finally achieve in getting the ring but causes his own death at the same time. You almost want to mourn his lost because there was a ‘what could have been’ opening for him.

Tip: Like Sméagol – make your villain and sub characters relatable too. People are complex creatures, so show that. Give your characters layers. Most forget the villian – he’s just the bad guy, so he’s always evil. However, give him a reason for why he’s evil: bad upbring, a missed chance on love, a close friend/family death. Give them human emotions too.

Here’s some links on flaws:

123 Negative Flaws

Negative Flaws can Derail Good People

Advance Writing Character Flaws

Writing the Perfect Flaw

peanuts

L. R. Mauck