You Know What Your Problem is? by Nicole Kimberling

nicoleFrom “The Secret Diary of Binky—Volume 28:”

When I saw Brutus, I knew at once that he would be my one true love. Tall, dark, handsome and strong, he commanded the attention of everyone in the room before he even opened his mouth. Then after he parted his plush lips and spoke, his wit and charm swept over the crowd. All the time I felt that he only spoke to me, though I suppose the rest of the group felt that way too.

He told me he was a doctor, but that his real dream was to sail around the world. All at once, Maoist terrorists invaded the party. In the fracas, I was knocked to the marble floor. Brutus stepped up immediately, speaking in flawless Mandarin. He diffused the situation, explaining to the guerillas that they had been brainwashed. The lone holdout, he disarmed using techniques of jiu-jitsu he’d learned during his time as an exchange student.

Later he brought me some ice for my hurt elbow. His touch comforted me more than words can express. When I asked him if there was anything at all he was bad at he said, “I’m bad at saying goodnight.”

And he was. I brought him back to my place and he stayed the night. His nine-inch uncut dick rocked my world.

And he doesn’t snore or hog the covers.

That’s why he’s here right now, beside me as I scribble my freshly-fucked feelings into this year’s Unicorn Journal. HE IS THE ONE!!!

Oh Binky, I get it. You had sex with a hot, rich martial arts doctor and now you think he does no wrong. But let’s face it, if he doesn’t start doing something wrong soon the readers are going to get suspicious.

Or worse, they will get bored.

Brutus does have a problem—in that he apparently has no problems.

Much has been written about the fact that characters need flaws to make them unique and interesting, but few theories have been advanced about how to realistically add a flaw to an existing character. I am here today to show an easy way to understand the process of deepening a character. Here is the key—a character’s flaw is the natural application of his greatest strength in an inappropriate circumstance. So for example if you have a protagonist like Binky whose strength is that he likes and understands people and wants to be liked by people, all you need to do is push that tendency of his into a situation where wanting people to like you can get you into trouble. Say Dr. Binky must make an unpopular decision, like chosing which of his nurses to lay off. His desire to be liked will cause him to exhibit any number of flaws. He might be indecisive or waffle. He might be duplicitous. He might put off making an unpopular decision for so long that his whole practice is in jeopardy. A character such as him would have a hard time speaking out against the status quo, even if he felt that injustice had been done.

Or if you have a very decisive character, such as Brutus, he might show his faults in situations that call for a being more easygoing. Lacking the patience to wait for others to choose, Brutus might be a bad or overbearing teacher—especially of young or insecure people. He may be unfamiliar with concepts such as negotiation or compromise. A character like Brutus would have a hard time letting another person ever be the hero.

Got it? Push the greatest strength into an uncalled-for area and the nature of the flaw reveals itself.

A brash, confident character would struggle with situations that call for discretion or anonymity.

A resourceful improviser would be pained by taking actions that required strict planning and close adherence to rules.

And the reverse of these is also true—“by the book” characters can be challenged by the lack of any book to follow.

After finding the flaws that are already built into your character, the clever author must engineer a couple of scenes that bring these particular flaws to light. This requires allowing a beloved protagonist to fail—or at least founder. This is perhaps the greatest challenge of all for an author who adores her characters. But it is undeniably true that the most compelling characters are the ones who are allowed to make mistakes from which they can learn and grow.

Just like real people.

Got any other tips for finding and accentuating the flaws in your characters? Let me know.

Nicole Kimberling’s Contact Information:

email: editor@blindeyebooks.com
website: nicolekimberling.com

10 comments

  • Hi Nicole

    I love your articles because they illustrate so clearly why I find many romances so boring. I have a LONG list of authors in this genre whose books I no longer read because their heroes are so goddam perfect and boring.

    Happy Thanksgiving! 😀

    Reply
    • Hey Wave! Thank you so much. If I can help just one perfect protagonist to err slightly for the sake of reader’s enjoyment, my work will be done.

      Reply
  • Potential employer: “What is your greatest flaw?”
    Applicant: “I think my greatest flaw is that I’m so devoted to my work…”

    Yeah, they didn’t buy it then, and they probably won’t buy Mr. Never-Leaves-Seat-Up or Mr. Never-Picks-Toenails, let alone Mr. Never-Anxious or Always Understanding Man.

    P.S. You find Always Understanding Man? Send him my way, por favor.

    Reply
  • Hahaha. I am sure you know by now that I am a fan of these series :), but from your essay to many authors’ ears. Hey the character can always not know how beautiful he is and that can be presented a a flaw :). Or he can be too clumsy heh. Wait, I am sure I have read about such a character already. Happy Thanksgiving.

    Reply
    • It’s always lovely to see you Sirius! Actually, as I was writing this, I realized I hadn’t particularly explored the personal flaws of my own hunky love interest from the Bellingham Mysteries, Nick Olson, all that much. Resolved to do better next book. 😀

      Reply
      • Hi Nicole, I think I am going to be bold and email you at the email you left at the end of the essay. I have a question (books related I swear :)), but it is off topic for this post, so I will do that.

        Reply

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