So give your hero a flaw that could turn fatal.
Superman or Batman? When given the choice, did you know Batman wins? Why? Because people relate to Batman, his negative emotions, his internal trauma, his drive to be good, and his sometimes vengeful sense of justice. Superman is just so … perfect. Not that I don’t appreciate the valiant knight in shining armor – I do. A lot. But sometimes it’s nice to taste spice that takes you close to the edge in a meal, a story, or a movie.
Strengths balanced with a flaw that can turn fatal will make for a truly memorable hero.
Your reader will be hooked wanting to know if your hero will succumb to the flaw, or whether their strengths and special skills enable them to dig themselves out of their flaw and win.
I’ll use two of my heroines as examples. The first, Sergeant Nicky Matthews from the Nicky Matthews Mystery series, works as a non-native police officer on a (fictional) Native American Pueblo in New Mexico. She comes from a culture of law and order with defined rules and laws that should be applied equally. Then, as a law student, she is accused of assault against a powerful family’s daughter who happens to be her fiance’s real fiancé.
Sick of the injustice and lies she sees all around her, she drops out of law school. She decides to become a police officer where she believes she can make a difference through front line interaction with the people she serves. But the sour taste of injustice lingers internally and affects her more than she’s willing to admit.
Bending the rules in the service of justice.
In the three Nicky Matthews mysteries published, Nicky is confronted time and time again with this question: Is it ever right to break the law for a good reason? When she runs up against the same corruption she saw off the Pueblo – privilege for those who have money and power – her strength (equal justice under the law) and her flaw (equal justice under the law at all costs) will do battle in the final book in the series with heart-wrenching results for Nicky, her relationships, and the career she loves. Look for the fourth book in this series, Sacred Ghosts, to be published 2024/2025.
If your hero chooses to make the ultimate sacrifice, would the world even care?
The second heroine is – at first glance – simpler. The De-Extinct Zoo Mystery series novellas are a genre mixing of mystery, Sci-Fi, and Genetic Engineering. The heroine, Veterinarian Milly Smith, works in a futuristic zoo filled with de-extinct animals, like mammoths, enormous apes (Gigantopithecus blacki), giant short-faced bears, wooly rhinos, and huge crocodilians (Quinkana fortirostrum), brought back, Lazarus-like, from the dead, by people playing God.
Her humanity. She will do anything for the animals under her care, including protect them with her life. The hubris of man has brought them back from extinction to a time and place they don’t recognize. They have been “re-created” as oddities or tools for humans to use and enjoy. When specific de-extinct animals become an inconvenience to their human masters, administration weighs their lives on a balance sheet of money and bad publicity. If the animal is deemed “unworthy”, they are destroyed. But Milly refuses to let her charges be used as commodities. She will be their advocate at all costs. (Hmmm. I’m seeing a larger theme in my writing. 🙂)
Her flaw? She allows her advocacy to push her into dangerous places and positions where her life is on the line. And if she loses her life, who would care enough to fight for these creatures? It’s a Catch-22 that could easily turn fatal – and eventually will once Milly learns she has much more in common with the de-extincts she protects than she ever knew. Because of Milly’s fatal flaw, someone important in her world will die. But who? For now and until the final book in the series is finished, I’m keeping my cards close to the chest.
So don’t make you hero or heroine or protagonist too perfect. We all have flaws. I fight with mine every day. A flawed hero is a memorable hero because readers can relate to them. And memorable characters draw readers back to your books over and over again. ♣️
This post was inspired by a James Scott Bell post I highly recommend.
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