Monday, June 17, 2013

Welcome Guest Sandra Orchard!

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?

Kate knows the truth is out there—but if she’s right, that means a killer is out there too.

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 or connect at


  1. Aristotle's Nicomachean Value Charts demonstrate this:

    Stanley did one for star wars. :)

  2. My current WIP has the H/H at opposite sides of virtue and vice

    according to the chart I'm using this pretty much:

    Ambition/empty vanity
    Proper ambition/pride Unambitiousness/undue humility

    Both fear failure.

    She's so focused on succeeding that she runs over others' feelings and her own heart to succeed. His success takes a backseat to everyone else's wishes and because he doubts he can succeed.

  3. Sandra, this gave me something to mull over. Thanks! One I could see that my hero and heroine disagree on is protectiveness. Until it becomes controlling behavior.

  4. Oooh, Melissa, how cool. Thanks for sharing!@!!

    Great topic, Sandra.

  5. Good morning Sandra,

    Your cover is beautiful, and it sounds like a great story.

    My current WIP the hero is a take charge kind of guy. Sometimes he jumps into a situation to help before he thinks through the long term consequences.

    Melissa, thanks for sharing your links also.

    What a great morning to learn.

    Thanks for sharing Sandra!

  6. Thanks, Sandra for giving me something to think about.

    Melissa, thanks for giving me something to copy and put with my resources.

    My next manuscript has a hero is fears taking care of others while the heroine has an obsessive need to do so. He is in an administrative role that helps him keep his distance and she seeks situations that put her in the thick of things.

    What a great start to Monday.

    Peace, Julie

  7. oooohhhhhh -- you've given me lots to think about. Like the way the strength of one is the weakness of the other...or is that the other way around? Anyway, like that it ties them together. I'll have to think about that.

    Let's see --the first character trait that comes to mind is creative. You know that artsy, creative, thinking-outside-the-box kind of person? They are exciting to be around, but hard to pin down and that can lead to chaos. It leaps to mind because I'm closing up two libraries for the summer and am finding that all the creative teachers are the ones giving me most grief regarding overdues and bits and pieces missing from kits etc. :-)

  8. Wow, you guys are up early! Okay my brain isn't quite online yet as I haven't had my morning walk. :)
    Thanks Melissa for sharing that chart.
    You're welcome, Tina & Nancy. :)

    Jackie...would you say your hero's character flaw is that he needs to be in charge? Then if his strength is that he's decisive, his weakness might be that he's impetuous. Although from the way you describe his as "jumping in to help"...perhaps you'd describe his strength as spontaneous or as adventurous, and his weakness as unpredictable or rash.

  9. Good post, Sandra! Thanks for reminding me that some of the 'flaws' we all have can create conflict in the story.
    I was the same with my husband. The thing that made me want to throw my hands up at times, also made me run to him first thing with a problem.

    I'm a great proponent of the other side of the coin theory.


  10. WELCOME SANDRA!!! I am soooo happy to see you in Seekerville today--YAY!

    Wow, excellent post--and as some others have said--you really gave me something to think about. ~ In my WIP, my heroine has a serious trust issue (due to being emotionally/verbally abused by her late husband). So when she holds back on trusting the hero, it's seen more as a lack of interest (until he realizes what's really going on, LOL). Whereas the heroine feels she's being cautious and guarding her heart.

    I LOVED your newest book DEADLY DEVOTION, and am highly recommending it!

    Thanks for sharing with us today, and THANK YOU also for being such a wonderful friend and accountability partner (I had to smile as I read your comment about being task oriented---because that trait in YOU has helped ME, especially when you've "cracked the whip" to get me going on my writing *wink*).
    Hugs, Patti Jo

  11. Love this post Sandra
    I have decided my heroine's character flaw is the same as her strength - excessive on both sides. She is working herself to exhaustion to keep a promise to her grandfather on his deathbed - a promise that seems to hold no logic or purpose. But her determination to keep that promise in spite of all odds will pay off in the end.
    Yeah - um - that way I only have to deal with "one" character trait.

  12. It's fun when you can get that perfect balance of the h/h at opposite ends of the spectrum and watch them fight against coming toward the middle.

    Great post, Sandra!

  13. Good morning, everyone! Sandra, welcome! Great post. Very timely for me as I revise a proposal and need to make sure my hero's growth makes sense.

  14. Melissa, thanks for sharing the link!

  15. Mary, that's such a good point about how it works in real life. I love how Sandra mentions that the hero starts to respect the heroine. They can help balance each other.

  16. Sherri, I may be slow to notice. But I love your new photo!

  17. Cindy R., that sounds like a good way to handle her trait. You know, you could show some flaws along the way, though. Problems that her tenacity causes. :)

  18. My hero is driven to prove himself to his father. Driven to become successful. He has to learn that love and family are more important. I've got to figure out how to portray that gradually, not some lightning strike change. It has to be believable.

  19. Hmmm, this is great food for thought Sandra. For one of my manuscripts, the heorine is a fiercely independent, career driven woman. This is great because it has allowed her to stay focused on achieving her career goals despite the obstacles that come her way. However, when the hero of the story offers to help her achieve her career dreams, she doesn't trust him. She's been burned by a guy before and so she's wary of partnering up with others.

  20. love this post. will have to review my character's traits to be sure i know where i'm taking them and give that extra depth. i like the examples too.

    need to check out that link from Melissa.

  21. Julie, I've been giving your hero and heroine's fears some thought, trying to nail down possible strengths and weaknesses. Because the fear or obsession itself is their flaw. The strength is what helps them overcome. And...I'm thinking your hero and heroine's flaws are deeper. Why does he fear taking care of others? Is he afraid of letting the person down? If a fear of failure is what's manifesting as a fear of taking care of others than his greatest strength might be taking charge, being competent, and his weakness being to bossy or perceived as arrogant. But...I get the impression that taking charge is not how your character copes with his fear of failure. I give the example to better illustrate how you might think about his character. Your heroine on the other hand might be driven by a need for love (her character flaw) so her strength as you described her would be self-sacrificing. (Which at the other end of the spectrum, many would see as a weakness of being too submissive or whatever)Or perhaps her flaw is that she needs results, this makes her persistent, determined (a strength), but she won't give up (which could be a weakness) Make sense?

  22. Kav, I love your real life example. Non-creative people often think of creative people as flawed, and you nailed the weakness we perceive...they seem undisciplined and unpredictable. Their strength on the opposite end of the spectrum might be that their spontaneous, which offers great conflict to the logical librarian who needs order, and they might perceive as too rigid...a description that I don't see describing you, however. :)

  23. Cindy, it sounds like your heroine's flaw is that she needs results. This makes her persistent and determined, but her refusal to give up when it would be prudent (weakness) will drive her to disaster. Yes?

    Patti Jo, you are so sweet. Big hug. It sounds like your heroine fears risk (namely risking her heart again). On the strength side this would make her seem even-keeled or balanced in her response to people, but at its worst would make her seem unemotional. Sound right?

  24. Hi Missy, thanks so much for having me. Sounds like your hero's character flaw is his need to achieve at all costs. So his strength is that he's goal-oriented, but of course, if he fails to factor in the importance of prioritizing family in those goals, it will be the classic climbing to the top of the ladder before realizing that it's leaning against the wrong wall. Perhaps his weakness could be that he thinks the end justifies the means, and makes a choice that will lead to what he wants, only it also endangers or hurts a loved one. As you said, it needs to be gradual. So maybe first he sees his modus operandi working for him, then there is a minor infraction midway that makes him begin to rethink, leading toward the bigger BM...that help at all?

  25. Preslaysa, sounds like you've got your heroine nicely nailed down. Character Flaw: needs independence
    Strength: Self-reliant
    Weakness: Can't rely on others for the reasons you give. Great job!

  26. Sherri, Mary, Deb, pleased to hear I've given you food for thought.

  27. ARISTOTLE? Wow, I am way out of my depth with you people. But I soldier on anyway.
    Kathy Bailey

  28. ARISTOTLE? Wow, I am way out of my depth with you people. But I soldier on anyway.
    Kathy Bailey

  29. What a great post, Sandra! Well timed, too, since I'm trying to nail down my characters before I begin fast drafting.

    One of my characters is fearless, that's what makes her a good fire fighter. I haven't figured out her flaw regarding this, though. I'd love your thoughts. :)

  30. Okay, that got posted twice because my BRAND NEW (well, February) computer is not behaving. Sigh. Just ignore the second one.
    In "Town," Oona's flaw is that she is stubborn and vengeful and wants to avenge the wrongs done to her family in Ireland. Pace's flaw is that he can't open up to people because of being put in the orphanage and witnessing a horrific murder.
    My own character flaw is being driven to accomplish. I even took a laptop in when I sat with my dying father. When I was younger a friend visited me, and while we were talking, I brought out some sewing. Not even cross-stitch or something "respectable" to do when you visit, but mending. She asked, "Am I keeping you from something?"
    Not any more. My goal for the last 30 years of my life is to give every person and every task the attention they need.

  31. Welcome to Seekerville, Sandra! I love your post! Thanks for sharing the importance of giving our characters strengths and weaknesses that cause them trouble yet in the end, save the day. I try to do this when writing my stories, but it's not easy, at least for me. But then what is? LOL


  32. Sandra! This is what makes a novel just that much more fabulous! I love how you are able to always put in such deep concepts (deep to me anyway *wink*) and make it seem so effortless.
    Thanks for posting!

  33. Jeanne, my first thought about your fearless firefighter is that her strength might be she's self-assured, in which case her character flaw might be that she needs no one--a serious problem in the middle of a firefighter when you shouldn't be going it alone or thinking your way is better than your captain's etc. And of course, a great flaw for a romance. The weakness might be arrogance. Self-assured people are often perceived that way, whether they are or not, and in some fatal way she might be. Would that work?

  34. Great topic, Sandra! I love delving into what makes characters tick. You provided excellent examples and motivations. I love it!

    Beautiful cover and great teaser. I see I've found another book to add to my TBR stack!

    Thanks for sharing : )

  35. Ah, Kathy, I can so relate to your task-oriented nature. :)
    Kathy, I'm guessing that Oona is your heroine and not a villain, so perhaps we might want to put a little more of a positive spin on her flaw to make her likable. :) Rather than thinking of herself as vengeful, would she say that she believes in fairness and justice...seemingly noble qualities when not pushed to extremes. Her strength might be her power of convictions. Would that work? With Pace you'll want to keep asking yourself why to dig down to the root of his flaw in order to find a strength and a weakness that will work well for him. You mention what precipitated his inability to open up, but what is it really that keeps him silent. Does he fear being misunderstood, misjudged, does he fear confrontation, believes he's better off not drawing attention to himself, or is it that he's decided he needs no one, he's better off going it alone?

  36. Hi Sandra,

    Good to see you in Seekerville!

    You've made me realize that I don't delve deep enough into my characters' traits! Though Melissa's charts made my brain hurt. LOL!

    Will keep these points in mind as I am fleshing out new characters.

    Congrats on all your success lately!


  37. Good idea, Sandra. I'll be brainstorming ideas for something that could happen midway to head that direction.


  38. That's right, Sue! I don't think the bio mentioned that Sandra's book was recently an RT Reviewer's Choice winner!!

  39. Hi, Sandra! So good to see you here!

    Your post is timely - today's writing task is to develop a new character to work into my WIP.

    This will give me some concrete ideas to consider as I figure out what really makes him tick and how he is going to balance my heroine and drive her crazy at the same time.

    Enjoy your day at Seekerville!

  40. Thanks Sue...I know what you mean about making your head hurt. I will often start a story thinking my character's greatest strength is one thing, only to discover as the story unfolds that it's really something else.

    Yee, Missy! Critical Condition also just won the Canadian Christian Writing Award last week. :)

  41. Hi Jan, great to see you, too! I love that driving crazy part. :)

  42. Oh, congratulations, Sandra!! That's fantastic!!

  43. Sandra, this is such an important point to remember. Any personality trait, carried to extreme, can quickly go from "strength" to "weakness." In the book I'm just finishing, the heroine thrives on adventure, while the hero is the "boring" responsible type. Each must learn something from the other as they learn to appreciate the positive aspects of their very different personalities.

  44. Just checked out the Genesis finalists lists and several Seeker friends are there!! (sadly not me, but that's Ok, I didn't expect it!)

    Two ladies have already commented here today!

    Big congratulations to all the finalists! Quite an achievement! Sending chocolate out for a celebration!


  45. Sorry about that. I was on my work email at the same time!

    It's really me!

  46. LOL, Father Sue. Yes, adding my congratulations to the Seekers on the list!

    Myra, great example. Thank you for sharing.

  47. The Genesis finalists have been announced! Congrats to our Seekerville friends!!!!

  48. Yes!! Audra, I was just about to say the same thing!! Congrats to all the familiar names!! Here's the list:

    Sally Bradley
    Lindsay Harrel
    Laurie Tomlinson

    Jill Buteyn (Double Finalist)
    Varina Denman
    Jill Kemerer

    Historical (Through Vietnam Era)
    Jennifer Lamont Leo
    Kelsey McKernie
    Kiersti Plog

    Historical Romance (through Vietnam Era)
    Whitney Bailey
    Susanne Dietze
    Nancy Kimball

    Janice Boekhoff
    Kara Hunt
    Bob Lyzenga

    Romantic Suspense
    Suzanne Bratcher
    Dawn Crandall
    Linda Rodante

    Becky Dean
    Lisa Gedrides
    Regina Smeltzer

    Sally Bayless
    Jill Buteyn (Double Finalist)
    Preslaysa Williams

    Young Adult
    TJ Akers
    Loraine Kemp
    Constance Sedler

  49. That helps tremendously, Sandra. Thank you.

    Peace, Julie

  50. Sorry, I'm on Idaho Dude Ranch time and working hard, but I saw the GENESIS LIST AND I FREAKED!!!!




    I'm happy dancing at the Green Mountain Dude Ranch with about sixty other folks who want the very best for each and every one of you!!!


  51. SANDRA!!! Sorry, that was rude beyond words, I hadn't even stopped in to swap howdies with you and I saw the Genesis list....

    And forgot myself.

    I remember those years (decades, maybe?????) of those contests, and of going head to head with each and every one of these Seeker ladies time and again until we decided to join forces...

    :) Joining forces was a great idea!

    Sandra, huge thanks for being here today and I promise to not be rude again.

    For an hour, at least!!!

  52. SANDRA!!! SOOOOO fun to see you here, girl, and YOWZA, what a timely post!!

    I've been struggling with the characters in my current WIP and not real crazy about them, which is deadly.

    But your post today is excellent and really helps in breaking through the concrete wall that's stopped me from moving forward, so THANK YOU!!

    AND I agree with Ruthy and Missy -- SOOOO proud of the Seeker friends who finaled in the Genesis, so you go, guys!!


  53. Hi, Sandra! Thank you for helping me take a closer look at my hero and heroine with flaws and strengths. Congratulations on your awards! Yay!

    Great news with the Genesis announcement. Congrats to all finalists!

  54. I've been studying Melissa's link to the value chart. (okay, admission time. How many others also had to look up a few words in the dictionary?!) :)

    I'm trying to decide if my story fits in the confidence/fear or the Honor/dishonor (minor). Hmmm...

  55. I must add my agreement about this being a very timely post, Sandra. I'm brainstorming a new story and characters and although I had a very productive weekend with my historical research (I got very excited :-), I hadn't quite nailed down my character's personality traits, goals, motivation, etc.

    This has freshened my creative juices and got me thinking. May have to go straighten library shelves for a while today and let my brain work on this where it's quiet. (Yes, even a library can be too noisy/busy for this introvert.) ;-)

    CONGRATULATIONS to all the Genesis finalists! So excited to recognize names on that list.

  56. Sandra,
    Loved your blog on strengths and weaknesses. Great way to look at conflict.

    BTW, I often talk about strengths and weaknesses in our writing. We need to write to our strength and learn how to improve anything that's a weakness.

    I'm applying your S/W ideas to my WIP. Thanks!

    Congrats on your suspense with Revell!

  57. Congrats to Nancy K and Susie D and all the Genesis finalists! Whoot!!!

    So proud of all of you!

  58. No problem, Ruth, go out an buy my book and all will be forgiven. ;)

    Yikes, Missy, I see what you mean. I'd only glanced at the chart. What on earth is Pusillanimity? I think honor/dishonor (minor) might be where your guy is at.

    Julie, thanks for the warm welcome! I'm thrilled to hear I may have helped you like your characters a little more!

    Thanks, Sherida and Melissa.

    Debby, gave me tingles to hear that something I wrote helped you with your WIP. :)

    Clari, so glad this post got your creative juices flowing.

  59. Hi Sandra!

    In my third historical I have a heroine who believes a person should be true to herself to the point of not allowing anything to interfere with her goal. Because of that, she doesn't want any emotional entanglements in her life. The hero believes in putting others' needs before his own to such an extent he has placed many of his dreams/goals on hold and convinced himself he doesn't mind. He sees her actions as selfish; she sees his actions as a martyr complex :-)

    Would you help me break that down into character flaw, positive and negative so I can gain a better grasp of the concept and apply it to my other chacters, please?

    Nancy C

  60. Congrats to the Genesis finalists. What a wonderful accomplishment!

    Nancy C

  61. Clari, I rarely think to go to the library for quiet. I tend to head to a coffee shop. But the library is a lot closer and I'm not tempted to buy lattes and frappucinos! :)

  62. Happy to, Nancy,
    So your hero's strength (although not in the heroine's eyes) is that he's self-sacrificing. Why? Understanding why will help us get to his flaw. You give an interesting reveal that he's convinced himself he doesn't mind putting others needs ahead of his own. In his past, did he not with dire consequences? Or did he grow up in a dysfunctional family where the only time he felt loved was when he was doing for others, in which case his motivation (and flaw) might be needs to be loved? In that scenario, his weakness might be that he submits too readily. Another take on it, depending on how and why he's self-sacrificing is that he fears confrontation (flaw), so he lets his own desires slide to keep the peace...the obvious weakness in her mind to that scenario would be perceiving he's unable to take a stand. Does that help you think about it?
    Like with a previous example, she sounds like her flaw is the need to achieve. Her strength would be that she's goal-oriented, and her weakness is believing the end justifies the matter what that means is...which would certainly make her seem cold-hearted. Does that kind of encapsulate her? If you want to give some more of the hero's whys...we can take another shot at him. :)

  63. Sandra, thank you!

    The heroine doesn't dislike people, but she wants them around on her terms, when it's convenient. Would that make her appear cold-hearted?

    You ask some thought-provoking questions about the hero. Without going into lots of detail, you helped me realize that one of the reasons for his taking care of others (a young son and two young nephews) is because his mother died when he was about 12. His father remarried within a year. The hero was never close to his father -- and the hero and his stepmother never got along. I'm thinking he feels the need to protect them from the emotional isolation he experienced at one time. Hmm. That helps me understand a lot of other things about the story. Wow.

    Can you tell I am not a writer who plots much?

    Thanks again, Sandra!

    Nancy C

  64. Glad it helped, and yes, that would make her seem cool, if not cold-hearted. :)

  65. Nancy C, sounds like you're on the right track!

  66. Way to go Genesis finalists!!!

    Sandra, this doesn't exactly fit about opposites, but close.

    Thanks for the post.

  67. Congrats Genesis finalists!

    Sandra, this post is so valuable to me today, as I've spent a good portion of the time working on character profiles. Your input in the post and in conversation with others on here have really helped me. Thanks!

  68. Sorry, about that Sandra.
    I deleted part of my earlier post and I just now see how it reads.

    I had tried to type an example and it didn't sound right, deleted it, and then sent the rest. LOL.

    My brain is fried after this busy weekend. Enjoyed your post and it makes perfect sense.

    Fixing to go on a walk w/my husband. Maybe that will clear the cobwebs.

  69. Missy, thanks for the encouragement!

    Nancy C

  70. Ah, thanks for explaining, Connie. I was wondering if you were referring to something in the post or one of the earlier comments, and was kind of at a loss how to respond. :)

  71. Hi SANDRA, welcome to Seekerville. Great name you have. smile

    Thanks for sharing your helpful hints on developing character traits. I love that part of forming my characters.

    Its fun to think of defects that go with the strengths.