What’s the thing you remember most about a great story? Is it the twists and turns? Is it the setting? Is it just the excitement of everything that happens between the covers? I’d be surprised if great characters aren’t somewhere on the list for the majority of stories. It’s why readers are so affected by the stories being told, because we’ve grown to feel something about the characters in them. We may not love them, and in some cases even like them, but we’re definitely captivated by them, wanting to see what comes next.
Joffrey Baratheon may well be the most hated character in the history of storytelling, but the mere presence of the character elevates the stories that take place around him into something special. We love to hate him. Not every character can be a Joffrey though, but we don’t want to go down the path of a perfect character, impervious to every obstacle. They need flaws as well as virtues.
The reason for both sides of the coin, is so your characters are humanised. They need that so that we can relate to them in some way. For a despicable character like dear Joff, the power of his position in Westeros is definitely a strength (perhaps not something we could call a virtue), while his general cowardice when his position can’t protect him, a flaw.
One great way to enhance the depth of a character, is to turn their strength or weakness into the opposite. Someone that’s unemotional could have trouble endearing characters to them, while also being able to weather a crisis better. The shy, reserved character might be able to stay above notice, but then struggle to make himself heard when it matters. Their strengths in excess can become obstacles for them to overcome, and it could require them using their weaknesses to get past them. Push their virtues and flaws into conflict with each other, and in essence, your story is going to orchestrate events such that you attempt to break every one of your major characters.
You’re going to give them hell. In return, they’re going to lie, make mistakes, and generally be ill-tempered children.
The Short Version:
You need your main/major characters. Each must have legitimate strengths and weaknesses. You should think of how these weaknesses might be strengths, and how the strengths might be weaknesses.
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