Necessary Ingredient for a Great Character #1: Give them a Vice

In case anyone here doesn’t know, we all have a vice.  Some people drink, they smoke, they over eat, they exercise an exorbitant amount.  So many people throughout history have had one we have various different ways to addressing it:

  • What’s your poison? (my personal favorite)
  • What’s your drug of choice?
  • Need your fix?
  • etc.

The list goes on.  Why do we have these vices?  Personally I think it’s because life is brutal and we have to do what we can to get through the day.  Unfortunately, we typically choose things that are self-destructive, and if we don’t, we tend to make healthy things self-destructive.

But that’s neither here nor there in relation to this post.

I’m simply trying to illustrate that since most people walking this earth have a vice, our characters need one too.  Yes, you heard me, your hero is supposed to come down to earth and slum it with us mere mortals.

Why do you ask?

Because they need to be relatable!

Ironically enough, the more altruistic and “pure” you make your heroes, the more it’s necessary to give them a vice.

Why?

Because humans relate better with flaws than with their better qualities.

It’s a strange fact about the human race, for some reason we put more weight on the negative than the positive in general.  When speaking about our behavior/beliefs, those of us with more unique, or darker behaviors/ideals are often stigmatized and looked at as if they’re lunatics.

So if you write a character that’s a true white knight, then you need to do something to bring him back down to the level of the person reading your story.  If they feel they have nothing in common with your character, then yes, may enjoy the book, but they’re not rooting for your protagonist.  They’re not going to say, “oh my god, that’s what I would do!  This is awesome!”

You need to build that connection between the characters and the audience.  Now, there are other ways to do this which I will cover in future posts, but I felt this needed to be said first.

Why?

Because people have a tendency to white wash things, and try to present their own history (or the history of their characters) in the best light possible.  It’s a reflexive human instinct that does us no good in the business of creative writing.  I get it, it’s hard.  You love the character, you think they’re awesome.  On top of that, you’ve written him in to be the good guy.  Why wouldn’t you make him good and moral and perfect?

Perfect is boring!

No one likes perfect!  personally, I think if someone were to be perfect, they’d simply cease to exist because they’d have no place in the mortal world, but again, I digress.

Other people take it even farther and hate perfect.  As if this perfect character’s existence in a fictional world seems to condemn their own.  As they read your book they’re going to see a character in a terrible situation do all these amazingly moral things and begin to judge themselves.

It doesn’t make sense, but neither do we most of the time.  The human mind does what it wants, it feels no need to check in with logic in these situations.

Now, I know this is starting to sound like I’m saying to give them a flaw and not a vice but here’s the kicker.

Vices come with many more judgments that flaws.  Hell, not only do we all have flaws, but we all have the same flaws.  They just vary in intensity depending on each person.

A person with a vice though, not all vices are shared.

What do you think when you hear drug or sex addict?  What do you think when you hear violent personality?  What do you think when you hear alcoholic?  What do you hear when you hear binge eater?  What do you think when you hear cigarette smoker?

All of these things carry a weight to them that flaws simply do not in my opinion.  So yes, while you definitely need to give them a flaw, I also recommend giving them a vice that easily relates to that flaw.

A vice drives the difference home that will only increase characterization, and help more people relate to more of your characters.

So as usual, what do you think?  Agree/disagree/think I’m nuts?  Please, leave your reactions in the comments below and let me know what you think.  I can’t wait to hear from you below.

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