How to develop your characters’ strengths and weaknesses

How to develop your characters' strengths and weaknesses

In a previous blog post on how to create interesting characters, I emphasized how important is to give your characters not just strengths, but also weaknesses. Perfect characters are boring!

But you shouldn’t give your characters just any flaws. The flaws your characters have need to be a good fit for the character. For example, having a character who’s reliable, hardworking, and organized, and then giving them the flaw of always being ten minutes late… no, that doesn’t work.

To explain, let me talk a bit about my previous day job. I used to be a psychologist, and I still draw on that background for my writing and editing. After all, creating characters has a lot in common with being a psychologist. 

 

An excercise that helps with creating characters

One of the exercises I always gave my patients as a homework was to make a list of their strengths and their weaknesses and then have their friends, partners, family members, and colleagues write down a list of what they think the patient’s strengths and weaknesses are. I always had them ask several people, since we all have different roles in our families, jobs, and circles of friends, so our colleagues might see a different side of us than our family, etc.

Why don’t you try it? Go ahead and make your own list of strengths and weaknesses.

 

After I rearranged them a bit, the patients’ lists might look like this:

 

Patient #1:

StrengthsWeaknesses
CaringSmothering
CompassionateOverly sensitive
Laid-backLazy

 

Patient #2: 

StrengthsWeaknesses
DeterminedStubborn
HonestBlunt
AmbitiousWorkaholic
EnergeticImpulsive

 

Patient #3: 

StrengthsWeaknesses
ReliableCan’t say no
OrganizedNot spontaneous enough
Detail-orientedPerfectionist

 

I’m sure you noticed and already suspected it would be like this. It’s not a coincidence which flaw appears on which list. There’s always a connection between a person’s strengths and their flaws. They are, basically, two ends of a continuum or two sides of the same coin, and you can’t have one side without the other.

Sometimes, in group sessions, my patients even had heated discussions when one patient wanted to write down a trait in the “flaw” column, while another patient thought it was clearly a strength. Well, depending on the situation, most traits can be either a strength or a flaw.

So, when you create your characters, make sure not to assign them random flaws. A character’s flaws should be their strengths taken to an extreme.

I hope you find this advice helpful. If you have any questions about character creation, please leave a comment.

Happy writing! 

 

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4 thoughts on “How to develop your characters’ strengths and weaknesses”

  1. Hi there
    I’ve been having SO many problems with developing ‘villain’ characters.
    It is like I am searching for something — anything to start with as a ‘bad’ (or rather, not a particularly ‘good’ character trait/flaw) character flaw — it is SO difficult.
    Your tip, on creating character traits/flaws as helped! still searching for my ‘ideal’ villain, though! or rather, my antagonist

    Reply
    • Another good tip for creating villains is that villains shouldn’t just be “bad guys” (or gals). They are not “bad” for the sake of being bad. They are the heroes or heroines of their own story, so the trick is to create a motivation behind their goal that even readers will be able to empathize with.

      Reply
  2. Love how you explained this! It’s great advice for writers. I’ve read and reviewed many books and there have been times where the book didn’t work for me because the character development was off. The characters didn’t click because of this very thing you’ve just described. Some authors want to make their characters interesting by giving them unique flaws, and that’s fine, but they must remember that it has to be plausible. Thanks for shedding light on this!

    Reply
  3. This is a really great perspective with regards to their “flaws” should be their strengths taken to extremes. It made me think back to all the different books I have loved and even those that I just couldn’t stand and to find an interesting pattern in regards to this subject. It has always bothered me in some books that I have ended up hating (or shall I say disliking greatly) where the authors make their characters have weird flaws that make zero sense over all and I spend the entire book trying to figure out proper reasoning and just can’t for the life of me. I also think some authors tend to create drama with these just to “make the book interesting” when, in my opinion, it does the complete opposite without proper development in characters.

    Reply

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