A Tip for Choosing the Strengths and Weaknesses in Your Characters
By Sandra Orchard
While out for a walk with my husband, I made an offhanded comment about one of his character traits—a comment that apparently came out sounding a tad negative—to which he responded, “You know, some people would find that a strength not a weakness!”
And therein lies the key to choosing your character’s primary strength and weakness.
Let me start with an example from my current release, Deadly Devotion, in which the heroine’s greatest strength is that she chooses to believe the best about people, which manifests as fierce loyalty. The hero, a detective, who has learned from experience that people are rarely what they seem, sees the trait as a weakness, a potentially dangerous weakness.
Yet, he begrudgingly admires it, too. It’s been a long time since he’s felt as certain about anyone as Kate Adams is about her friend.
Even so, if asked what his greatest strength is, he’d say it’s the opposite of Kate’s. He’s realistic—he sees people and situations for what they really are. How can that be a weakness?
Well… Kate would call his realism cynicism. Does that sound more like a weakness to you?
Any trait taken to either extreme can be viewed as a weakness or strength. That’s the technical sweetness of choosing a fatal flaw that lies somewhere between.
In a story, the role of the character’s flaw is to rush him headlong into the black moment, while the role of his greatest strength is to enable him to save the day.
So… will the hero’s cynicism, and resulting distrust, drive him toward disaster? Or will his realistic perspective of the situation save the day?
Will the heroine’s faith in people lead her to gullibly trust the wrong person and put her life at risk, or will her loyalty save the day?
Could go either way couldn’t it?
|Photo credit: Crestock/donskarpo|
The heroine could learn that it’s better to look at the world realistically, instead of through rose-colored glasses. Or she might convince the hero that sometimes he just has to believe in people and have faith in who they are, because when everything is at stake, faith may be all he has left—faith in God and faith in his friends?
The beauty of choosing strengths and weaknesses that are essentially a matter of perspective or extremes of the same trait is that it makes the character’s growth very organic. What he or she becomes is rooted in his or her personality as depicted from page one. But… along the way she’ll be forced to change what she believes about the trait. And in the process will learn something.
Let’s consider a few other examples. I’m a highly task-oriented person. I esteem that trait in others. I get things done. It’s a positive trait—a strength—right?
Not always. Not if I routinely choose accomplishing tasks over spending time with my family or friends. I’m sure we can all imagine plenty of ways the seemingly valuable trait could cause trouble.
What about a confident person? If their flaw is that they need to succeed, their confidence could soon look more like being domineering.
The possibilities are boundless. Persuasiveness can be perceived as manipulation. Self-assurance as arrogance. Courage as recklessness.
A self-reliant person might not be able to rely on others. A determined person might not give up even when it’s prudent to do so.
Of course, make sure the traits and fatal flaw you choose for your characters are rooted in their wound. For example, a determined person’s flaw might be that he “fears failure”. Perhaps in his past he failed to stick to a task and the result was tragic, and he’s vowed never to let that happen again. Or a determined person’s flaw might be that he “needs results”, because of a completely different type of event in his past that deeply affected him.
In my heroine’s case, her father was arrested when she was a child and died in police custody. She was told and believes he did nothing wrong. People who thought otherwise were cruel to her, and those experiences caused her to become fiercely loyal to family and friends, to believe in them no matter how things looked.
Your turn: What are some other examples of positive and negative extremes of the same trait and a character flaw that might lead to them?
Research scientists Kate Adams and Daisy Leacock were on the brink of a breakthrough for treating depression with herbal medicine when Daisy was suddenly found dead. Kate knows that her mentor’s death wasn’t suicide or a careless accident—and she’s determined to do whatever it takes to unearth the truth about what happened to the woman who changed her life.
Former FBI agent Tom Parker is finding it hard to adjust to life back in his hometown of Port Aster. Though an old buddy gave him a job as a detective on the local police force, not everyone approves. Tom’s just trying to keep a low profile, so when Kate Adams demands he reopen the investigation into her friend’s death, he knows his job is at stake. But despite his attraction to her, Tom thinks Kate herself may have something to hide.
As evidence mounts, a web of intrigue is woven around the sleepy town of Port Aster. Can Kate uncover the truth? Or will Tom stand in her way?
Sandra Orchard is an award-winning Canadian author of inspirational romantic suspense with Love Inspired Suspense and Revell. She is an active member in American Christian Fiction Writers, The Word Guild, and Romance Writers of America. To find out more about her novels, and to read interesting bonus features, please visit www.sandraorchard.com or connect at www.Facebook.com/SandraOrchard