I’m not a fan of perfection. To me, it’s boring. Perfection means never making mistakes, always making the right decision, knowing the answers, always having an elegant solution. I’ve read a fair-share of stories that had these seemingly perfect characters and I usually find them boring and repetitive.
I can give you a good example. There’s a sci-fi series by Harry Harrison that follows the adventures of an anti-hero nicknamed The Stainless Steel Rat. When I was a kid I read a few of them and found them okay, not necessarily memorable, but they entertained me on long plane rides.
A few years ago I remembered the stories and picked up a collection, hoping to relive some childhood adventures. Wow, was I disappointed. I hadn’t remembered how ‘perfect’ the Rat was. I read through two stories in the collection – and it was a struggle – but gave up. When a character gets out of every situation completely unscathed, always makes the right decision, is always one-step ahead of the antagonist…well, like I noted above, it’s repetitive and boring.
For some reason, there are writers who feel their characters need to be larger than life. I don’t think they realize that in doing so they turn their characters into caricatures. Hell, even Sherlock Holmes made mistakes. They were rare, but it happened.
Even the best character needs to have flaws, needs to make mistakes, needs to fall and skin their knees. In other words, they need to be human. Yes, even the aliens in science fiction stories. I mean, they need to be flawed, not necessarily ‘human’.
Flaws are make makes characters unique, just like people. In real life, all the people that are held up as examples of greatness, as icons, as people we should emulate, are all flawed in some way. Micheal Jordan, who was a legend in the National Basketball Association, a good teammate, and a fan favorite, ended up with a gambling problem. Mother Teresa, now sainted, believed that sick people needed to suffer like Christ and apparently withheld medicine and palliative care from those in need.
Just because someone is good and put up on a pedestal doesn’t mean they aren’t broken or damaged in some way. We all make mistakes, and so should our characters. We need them to be flawed, not only to make the story more interesting, but also to make them more relatable.
In my opinion, there are no true heroes. In fact, I think it’s wrong to classify characters into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. That’s too black and white. We need shades of gray, ambiguity. It’s far more interesting when I have to wonder who I should be rooting for in a conflict. I want to see both sides of the issue, I want to see context, I want to feel sympathy for everyone involved.
Actually, a good example are some of the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, some of the heroes and villains are two-dimensional, but some are incredibly well-rounded. Loki is the first to come to mind. Over the course of the films the character has been in, he’s gone from a stereotypical ‘I want to rule the world’ bad guy to a sympathetic adopted brother with family issues. The big baddy in the films, Thanos, wants to wipe out half the living creatures in the universe. While it sounds horrifying, his reasoning – to restore balance and allow for more resources for those who remain – sort of makes sense in a twisted sort of way.
As far as the heroes are concerns, Tony Stark/Iron Man is another good example. Tony only wants to protect the Earth, but he allows his obsession with peace to overrule his better judgement and he ends up creating Ultron, who almost wipes out humanity. A genius making bad decisions for the right reasons. Flawed hero indeed.
But that’s what makes characters interesting and exciting. We can better relate to a hero who makes mistakes because WE make mistakes, too. I know this will probably annoy some readers, but I find Superman to be a boring character. At least, the early incarnations of the hero. They’ve made him more human over the past couple of decades, but when I was a kid Superman was invincible, always knew what to do, always saved the day. He was too perfect, and that, to me, was boring. What’s the point of reading the comic books if I already know what’s going to happen? Give me some ambiguity and I’m all in. Otherwise, I’ll pass.
I’m sure there are those who will disagree with my sentiments, but I stand by them. I want characters who are realistic, who stub their toes, lose their eyeglasses, say the wrong thing and hurt someone’s feelings. Those are things I can relate to and I think most readers will agree.
Perfection is boring.