Perfect (or even mildly flawed) characters are un-relatable and boring.
Somewhere in the first few chapters of The Iliad one becomes aware that the Achilles, the lead character, is kind of a narcissistic douche.
He’s willing to throw the whole 10-year mission into chaos and potential failure over his egomaniacal fixation on some 14-year-old girl that Agamemnon took from him like a party favor. He sits out all the action in most of the first part of the book/poem, just being kind-of a ponce while letting his “friends” die. He’s only urged into action when he sees his boyfriend being dragged around the scene behind a chariot. Then, in a fit of pique, he goes ape-shit on the Trojans and levels them all–killing hundreds and breaking a long, bloody stalemate.
Thanks. Thanks a lot.
And yet, while he is doing this, we cheer. Why? Because he’s the good guy. He’s the protagonist. And we like him.
Why do we like him? Well, if your commanding officer took your war-prize child-bride away, don’t you think you’d be a little miffed? Don’t you think you’d be saying “screw you–I’m sitting this one out” if you could?
So when I read a book with a lead character who’s all Gallant and no Goofus, something inside of me sneers, shrivels, and starts to go into a diabetic coma.
Your characters will be far more relatable if they are hideously and obviously flawed in some way. And I don’t mean in that sorry little Meg-Ryan-is-cute-when-she-has-a-temper-tantrum-oh-dear-her-purse-is-messy way.
I’m talking about a history of suicide attempts. I mean pica (pica is fascinating). I’m talking about a weird and morbid fascination with highway guardrails. I’m talking full-on Blue Velvet psychosis.
(Caution: NSFW Langage and stuff)
Why? Because that’s interesting. We can relate to that.
We all secretly know the darkness in ourselves. When we see it played out on the page or screen we say to ourselves “I know that guy!”. It makes us ask questions of ourselves. What stops us from being a Hannibal Lecter or a Joe Christmas (or just about anyone in a Faulkner novel, come to think of it)?
This is not just limited to villains. Who was the more genuine and likable hero in the original Star Wars flicks? The goody-two-shoes Luke or the worldly and cynical Han Solo?
Such characters are stunning in the ways that they aren’t predictable, and how they force us to look at ourselves honestly.
There’s also the problem of potentialities: The bad man can find inner peace and become good. That makes a good story. The good and pure can only become corrupt or die.
Anyway, here’s something Carl Jung said that is somewhat pertinent:
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” – Carl Jung
Yes, in fact Nick Pente — the protagonist of my debut novel — is hideously flawed. Why? ‘Cause that’s how I like ’em. You will, too. Check it out at http://diamondtbook.com