Two weeks ago we looked at how to make your characters pop (not literally, of course. that would be messy), and today we’ll look a little closer at one of the points raised then.
Your characters’ strengths and weaknesses – and why both are equally important – has almost become a cliche post to write, if you ask me. But I read too many characters which only have strengths and no weaknesses, so I feel it’s important to repeat it again. As often as it takes!
You’ll probably sigh with boredom and wonder if you should just skip this bit. After all, your character’s strengths are easy! Make him constantly positive! Make her confident! Make him a feminist! Make her brave!
It looks simple, but there’s more to character creation than making our precious babies brave or strong. Once you know what your character’s strength is, you can use it to really shine! How do you show that a female character is confident with her body and appearance? A lot of us girls struggle with our confidence, so writing a character who struggles, too, but turns it into a strength and becomes more confident as the plot progresses can be fantastic!
For example, Briana Morgan does this beautifully in Reflections. Rama is all of us where her body image is concerned. She hates her body and the way she looks, and clothes shopping with her beautiful friend is a nightmare. Watching her transformation into a self-confident girl who appreciates her body and looks was empowering, ladies!
Another fantastic example is Nina from the brilliant Six of Crows duology. She’s not your usual skinny girl but celebrates her slightly larger body, no excuses made. I think you’ll all agree, ladies, that that’s one hell of a strength! Reading about a character who’s comfortable with who she is, what she looks like and wears it like a badge of honour was empowering, ladies! (I seem to be developing a pattern here…)
One more example: In An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Laia is a slave girl who is tasked with infiltrating her enemy’s headquarters and spying on their leader (a fantastic villain, by the way, if you need more of those in your life (and, I mean, why wouldn’t you?)). She has no experience as a spy and is more likely to run away than stay and fight, but she’s stubborn, determined, and most of all she loves her brother, who’s been taken prisoner by the enemy. It’s for his sake she agrees, endures torture, and gets up time and time again. A love for your family and the will to see them safe is something we all recognise and can relate to, and informed Laia’s character development massively!
Heroes need weaknesses like I need cookies after a long editing session, so you mustn’t skip this. Weaknesses make them more relatable. If your character is too perfect with no flaws, your readers will find it difficult to root for him, and that’s the last thing you want! Especially when it’s so easily avoided.
When you’re at the beginning of your writing journey and only just start to think about character creation, thinking of negative traits to give your precious imaginary friends can be difficult, but it’s vital that you don’t skip this step.
My favourite example comes from Nevernight, because it’s not the kind of weakness you’d expect. Mia trains to be an assassin – and as we all know from personal experience (*ahem* obviously), assassins get hired to kill, they don’t get to be picky. So it’s seen as a weakness (Mr. Kindly, her beautiful wisp of a ghost cat, points this out several times) that she can’t bury her compassion and do as she’s told. Because, friends, while she harbours deep hatred for a small selection of people, she’s really a good person deep down. Mia can’t get herself to kill innocent people, even if it’s expected of her, and she’s told over and over again that she needs to move past this if she wants to succeed. Given her ultimate goal, this was a genius weakness to give her!
Another good example comes from the Six of Crows duology (I’ve a feeling you’ll see this pop up a lot over the coming weeks…). While every character in these books is perfectly flawed, I’m going to talk about my own personal favourite: Jesper (I mean, they’re all personal favourites, but I had to pick one) He’s got a gambling problem, and it’s relevant to the plot because he gives away important information in the heat of the game, and he learns to resolve it! And that’s what you want friends: Weaknesses and strengths that are relevant to your plot are a must, but if your characters figure out how to grow and overcome their weaknesses?
So, you see, strengths and weaknesses can literally be anything! Something you might see as a positive trait to have (like Mia’s compassion) could well be a weakness in the context of your world.
Finally, your characters need a good balance of both. It’s no good having a character with all the strengths but no weaknesses as we’ve discussed, but it’s also no good having a character with too many flaws and not enough strengths to make up for it. You want your precious darlings to have weaknesses, but not so many that it gets difficult to root for them. They need to get through the plot and the barriers you create for them somehow, after all, and that’s going to be difficult without strong points.
How do you work out your characters strengths and weaknesses? Pour yourself a tea, and let’s chat! <3
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