Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Importance of Creating Characters Who Are Flawed Yet Likeable

I know I've written about this before.
Probably because I have no trouble creating flawed characters.
What I do have trouble with is making them likeable.
A likeable character is just what it sounds like: your character possesses at least some attributes that are positive.
A character who has a flaw, of course, provides him or her with something to overcome during the course of their journey.
But a character who is too flawed also can be nauseating to spend too much time with.
I love Lars von Trier, who creates amazingly flawed characters, but if you’ve seen his last film, The AntiChrist, you will understand what I mean.
I personally couldn’t stand either character in The AntiChrist, which was not the fault of the wonderful actors who interpreted the roles (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg), but the awful script.
Creating likeable characters means that you create characters who are sympathetic.
What is one way of doing this? Allot your character with at least something positive:
- Your character is capable of love –  and is loved by someone.
- They do something well. They have a talent.
- They do at least something that is good/selfless to/for another person. They give.
Creating selfish characters who only take, who we are expected to “like” only because we pity them, well… Hard to get on-board with a character like this. 
I saw God of Carnage a couple of days ago. One thing that was really brilliant about this play was how the writer, Yasmina Reza, made a “villain” out of each character, but also negated what was “bad” about each character by showing what was also negative about the others.
What I mean by this is— imagine you’re watching a couple fight. You want to side with one of the members, probably with the individual who is being least aggressive, whom you see is at least making an attempt to quell the fight and get along.
Well, what if both sides are equally aggressive (in their own time), but also equally sympathetic?
Both sides make some attempt to appeal to the other, even when they are being aggressive.
Or they show humor.
Suddenly, you see the reason one side might be snide. It's because they really do have to put up with actions that are so annoying and/or outlandish from the other characters.
I happen to be teaching a workshop today that deals with this very issue. I will most likely either video this three-hour workshop in parts so that I can feature it on this blog, or I will feature it as an entry.


  1. I look forward to seeing/reading more from your workshop. Great perspective, and very helpful for me. Thanks!

  2. PS- I just read over your free workshop today & tomorrow and I wish I was in town (I live in SoCal, but am in Palm Springs for the weekend)! Darn. If you have more upcoming later this summer, I'll be sure to attend.

  3. Interesting, and good points. I tend to gravitate toward the characters that are flawed, yet ultimately likable, both in reading and writing (oh yes, and movie watching).

  4. @S...

    We had a great workshop today. We will be doing another one soon. If you'd like, sign up for the mailing list, so I can keep you in the loop (there's a mailing list on this blog).

    But I will be posting info as more workshops come up.

  5. @Shannon. Yes, I gravitate toward likeable characters but don't always have such an easy time writing them.