In the writing biz, “boring” is the opposite of “interesting,” and every authority says authors of fiction should:
Resist the temptation to create a perfect lead character. Perfect is boring. (Even Indiana Jones suffered a snake phobia.)
Like a lot of absolute advice, that has an interesting hole in it.
Jesus of Nazareth was perfect (if you want to believe what the Bible says). But whether you believe that or not, he definitely was not boring. At the start of his ministry—on the first day—he got the people of his town so angry at him that they hustled him out of the synagogue to throw him off a cliff. Little more than three years later, at the end of his ministry, the authorities in Jerusalem were so angry with him that they eventually had him nailed him to a cross. In between, he walked on water, turned water into wine, healed many, and fed thousands. He often wanted to be alone, but crowds of people sought him out every day everywhere he went—and be traveled a lot. He ate with Pharisees, tax collectors, and sinners. He talked kindly to soldiers, prostitutes, and children. He wept over Jerusalem, got angry, and threw furniture around. We are not told whether he laughed, but I can’t imagine that he didn’t.
Of course, Jesus is unique. The point I make is that “perfect” is obviously not synonymous with boring. Jesus angered many of the religious authorities, and conflict is absolutely essential to any story worth reading, but it is definitely possible to create thoroughly interesting characters without giving them nasty or evil flaws. In fact, some stories cannot be told unless the protagonist has no flaws that pertain to the plot or the theme. The story of Jesus Christ is one of them.
For authors of fiction, the take-away from all this is that if your story requires a protagonist with no relevant flaws, then tell it that way. Don’t invent flaws just because the literary authorities say you must.
When inventing or assigning flaws, it is important to distinguish two kinds.
The fundamental kind of flaw shows up when people do something to someone else which they would not want done to themselves. (Or who won’t do for others something they would want done for themselves.) It is a moral flaw, the kind which new authors usually think editors want them to insert in a story.
The second kind—the superficial flaw—is real but fake. It is real because it leads to conflict, but it is fake because the conflict is merely the struggle of one characteristic against its opposite: Warrior versus pacifist. Epicurean versus Stoic. Men versus women. Labor versus management. Parsimonious versus generous, and so on and on. Each opposite pair has humans who tend one way or the other, and every human society needs both of each even though extremists from each opposite may call the other bad—or evil, The extremes of these opposites are excellent sources for conflicts which are neither fundamentally good nor evil (unless the Golden Rule is broken).
No matter which flaws an author selects, or whether they are fundamental or superficial, their out-working should advance the story and/or illustrate the theme. If a character keeps the Golden Rule, though, it is probably a good idea to not mention it. When an author writes well, a protagonist can have a perfection that is limited to the story. Any readers who have no extreme editorial hat on will ignore the absence of moral flaws, and enjoy the conflicts that are based on extremes, or misunderstanding, or other differences.
But remember: There is far more to an interesting story than flaws and conflict, so, whatever you write, please make it thoroughly (I won’t say perfectly) interesting.
Retired as a computer programmer for Telxon, Office Max, Goodyear and others, Mr. Jenkins now writes books instead.
All novels are Speculative Fiction by definition. Instead of using that redundant term, I use the oxymoron Future History to describe my stories. I could call them Speculative History, but that implies a re-write of the past to fit a favored plot, and my robot stories do not re-write the past.
They re-write the future.
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