Recently I read a blog on why heroes need to be imperfect men to keep the energy of novels alive and realized that, while focusing greatly on adding and resolving the conflicts of the heroine in one of my stories, I may have done the hero a disservice. I may have made my hero lukewarm. So I did what I usually do these days when faced with a fiction writing conundrum – I turned to my online coursemates. The feedback was split into two schools of thoughts.
One side claimed that no man is perfect so why should any fictional character be? Humans are imperfect creatures. Moreover, every individual is aware of his or her own imperfections. In order to make any character believable, he or she needs to harbor some characteristics that are less than desirable. Something to give people a pause. Otherwise, the reader will lose connection. Where is the challenge? Where is the “despite of” element that keeps the relationship between hero-heroine from becoming a tedious and tilted love affair? It made me realize that if Mr. Darcy did not have his famous pride, would we find him as exciting?
The other side defended that if the heroine of a story can be accepted when portrayed as perfect then why must a hero be imperfect to draw excitement. Shakespeare was cited a number of times, arguing that he often used perfection to contrast imperfection. Portia from The Merchant of Venice was beautiful, graceful, of good breeding and had a mind so logical it put professionals to shame. Othello’s Desdemona was also enviously beautiful and loyal to the last breath to boot. Hmm… Sounded like women bore the brunt of upholding unreasonable expectations. But that might be an era thing.
Besides, these women were not entirely without failings. Portia’s logic is disturbed by the fact that she is ignorant of Antonio’s hate crimes against Shylock and she uses her logic to ensure the severest crime upon Shylock’s head, a Hobson’s choice between death or religious conversion. Her logic is marred by her overconfidence that she uses to drive home a faulty resolution, even after Shylock agrees to pay the fine. Desdemona’s loyalty is also too strong to save her, she allowed it to blind her to Othello’s jealousy, believing till the end that he would come to his senses.
This got me to thinking that too much of a good thing may also be an imperfection in a character. If that good thing can be used to propel the plot conflict forward. I was starting to feel better. For example, if a hero, “hypothetically speaking”, showed too much forbearance towards an old friend who may have come between him and his budding love affair with the heroine, then his good-natured bonhomie and kindness might act as a tool for the conflict, correct?
But this reflection did allow me to realize that I must plump up each of my characters with more facets, whether they be protagonists, antagonists, counterparts or supporting. The journey continues…