Editing Tip #84: Honing Character Pt 5 – Perfect is Boring

It’s relatively safe to say that everyone wants to find their perfect soul mate – but that doesn’t mean the person who is perfect for you, is in fact flawless. Now, we’ve touched on flaws and quirks already in this series but I came across an author recently who has put out her third novel in a fantasy series and has ignored the ultimate rule:

male & female arguingTake no prisoners…

No. (Just kidding)

When dealing with magic, there must always be a cost to the wielder.

But you can look at this from the point of view of any genre: if nothing ever phases your main character, or her hunky love interest, then there is no tension… which leads to a boring read.

The hardest part about this, is that many new or emerging authors are so taken with their own story and their own characters that they don’t see how uninteresting they are.

I mean, sure he’s a hot immortal who can teleport at will, is an awesome warrior with a quirky sense of humour who likes to cook… he’s got flaws – he’s presumptuous (but easily forgiven), quick to temper (but never follows through), thinks highly of himself (but can also laugh at himself) and has no scruples about breaking and entering (but only does it for good reasons).

By all accounts, this could be a fascinating character – but he’s not.

Because he can effectively do whatever he wants without consequence – I am not invested in him or the story. I know right from the beginning that he will be the nice guy who helps the heroine discover herself amidst the coming of the end (something only she can fix, and surely will, with him by her side).

It’s too easy.

He’s too perfect.

I’m not committed as a reader.

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to make him a jerk for the story to be interesting – but if there was a scale, whenever it tipped too far to perfect then the character(s) must pay a price… if this god-like guy never does wrong, gets hurt, or has to work to achieve things (like healing someone or teleporting himself and others around) then at the very least those closest to him should “pay the price”.

Now that would be interesting…

Every time he effortlessly wins a battle, his girlfriend misses learning a valuable lesson.

Every time he teleports, people around him grow ill from the wavelengths he puts out.

Every time he heals a wound, someone else on the globe suffers instead.

How he would have to deal with the consequences of his actions would make for a far more interesting story, and I might actually debate whether or not he and his girlfriend win in the end… and that’s what will make me keep reading.

Not another conflict easily overcome in a series of false climaxes.

And the only way you’ll be able to see these perfect characters is by having beta readers who understand your genre and aren’t afraid to tell you when they get disappointed – and why.

This is a structural/content type of edit and if you’re too attached to your characters, your story may suffer from writing with blinders on. It’s imperative that all writers realize that nothing is perfect… not even the people we manipulate on the page πŸ˜‰

Happy Editing!

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Categories: Editing

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2 replies

  1. This is great advice, perhaps even rule no.1 for a writer, as the characters are often the most important part of a story!

    I remember reading a fantasy book once and, as you say in the article, the main character just did things without paying for his actions. When he was attacked by a deadly poison, funnily enough a character came up with an antidote that only ever worked once. Typical. Something far more interesting would have been a poison that affected the character so he had to take pills to keep him alive for the rest of his life, like a fantasy version of diabetes, or something like that. But now I’m just rambling!


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