How to create believable characters – use the 2:1 rule for flaws vs awesome

Doctor who saying I'm brilliant

I found an article that gave some simple advice on creating characters recently (you can see the article here). Most of the points are to prevent you from creating Marty Stu or Gary Stu characters. One of the great points was that you should use a 2:1 rule:

For every couple of positive traits you award your characters, add in a flaw too. Remember that biting nails, being rude or clumsy are not flaws, they’re bad habits at best. Real flaws affect their story. Being shallow, betraying a friend, or even narcissism are all normal traits that will make your character more realistic and will help readers relate to them.

I think this is a great rule, and will stop your character from becoming too overpowered. Also, flawed characters are more interesting aren’t they?

Published by

David Ball

David is a web developer, and the creator of OngoingWorlds

  • Johnny

    Writing fiction interactively, or cooperatively, allows us many advantages and serves many needs. It is social and draws together creators of common tastes. It provides a vicarious outlet to express the dreams that are born in our hearts, designed by our imaginations, and communicated in our words. Again, to be shared with those with similar dreams. It is a forum that exposes us to useful criticism and, more importantly for me, validation, whether that be in the form of praise, or in the simple fact that someone else enjoys my contributions enough to continue collaborating with me.

    I offer this as proof of the value I just ascribed: Have you ever started a story with someone(s), and when things seemed to be going real well, it suddenly dies off? Of course, you have.

    Do you remember how that made you feel? Of course, you do. And just as much as you’ll miss that delicious anticipation of `the next post’ or that next reply, you’ll mourn as deeply an unfinished tale. You might even feel that the months of daydreaming dedicated to the climax that was never achieved were, in fact, a terrible waste of time. That, for me, is the worst feeling.

    Have you ever felt that? Well, THAT is how you know it had value. You feel it’s loss.

    So, why does this… what we are doing… writing together… have ANY emotional impact, at all? Because rejection is rejection, no matter the forum, whether we be anonymous or named. We’re creative. We’re artists. We want to be appreciated and… included [see: social].

    I needed to explain all that to address the concerns of this article, and those like it.

    No one creates a character to be flawed.

    Even if they do, those flaws are romanticized to the point of virtues. When a character is created, it is a schematic. It does not breathe until that first post. And anything you may have envisioned for this character goes right out the window, this new life now being molded by the circumstances it now lives in… after that first post. And it does live, in our imaginations, shaped by ourselves, as well as our collaborators, whose contributions we will come to value as the tale becomes enriched by other perspectives.

    Our characters flaws are rarely designed. However, they are exposed, revealed, and realized as the story goes.

    And once they are exposed, revealed, and realized? Well, THEN we romanticize them. : )

    But, at least, then, they are `earned’ by the character and not assigned before they are even `born’.

    I will close by quoting Dennis Miller: `Of course, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.’

  • A Person

    I agree with this article, as I have seen many characters that seem a bit too perfect to be real. However, more common than these are characters that live to be pitied. Basically, they are characters who have many virtues, however hold a dark past that is actually, really creative and original. Until they bring it up over and over again in the story, as a means to get attention. Not only that, but they do that with every single character. And whenever something doesn’t go their way, they bring it up, like, “Okay, FINE. Ignore me, just like my parents did before they tried to kill me!” Yeah, it’s sad and all, but no need to bring it up for the thousandth time at such an irrelevant moment.
    Also something that bothers me are oversensitive or unbelievably weak characters. Characters that cry over everything or are constantly getting hurt. Maybe. every once in a while, a character like this gives a story just the filling it needs. But when its a character you constantly use, it just gets on people’s nerves. Somebody could poke this character, and they would curl up in the fetal position, crying and screaming. “NO! NO, DON’T TOUCH ME!” Somebody could end up messing up and say the wrong thing to them, and they would run off, in tears. “I messed up again…why do I keep doing this…” and end up stabbing their hand or something. I’m not making fun of actual people like this. I understand that some people are extremely emotionally and mentally unstable and are actually capable of doing this. But not every character has to be like this. It ends up making the story all about that person, until eventually, others get tired and stop posting, and what might’ve been a brilliant story, dies.
    (I don’t mean for this post to be offensive for anyone. This was merely my opinion and I was merely expressing it.)

  • Cloud in Trousers

    I agree with this rule, but I’ve always found that it’s usually put in very simplistic terms. I mean, qualities and flaws are very relative things. Something I greatly dislike on someone might be the same thing someone else finds adorable, and that’s exactly why we don’t all like the same people. I might think that guy from work talks too much and is too cocky, and someone else might say he’s really friendly and trustworthy – and we’d be focusing on the same characteristics. He’s sociable and confident, and those characteristics reflect in different actions, which are, then, perceived as good or bad by other people.

    So I don’t really believe we should create characters so mathematically. I think it’s enough to have an idea of who they are, what are the characteristics that define their personality, and then try to understand the consequences – both good and bad – that they have in their life. If they’re lazy, maybe they’ll miss opportunities in their life, but maybe they’re also good at figuring out how to accomplish their goals doing the very least possible – so they’re productive. They’re caring? That’s cool that they’ll do anything for the people they love, but maybe they have a tendency to get over attached to them too?

    So i guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think there’s a need for a rule, because every one of our characters’ characteristics necessarily has good and bad consequences inherent to it.