No one really wants to read about perfect characters. Unless they’re not human. Angels, maybe, or some supreme alien perfect beings. But as humans, we want to read about people like us. Imperfect characters that make mistakes and may or may not learn from them. We want to see where these people can possibly get in life and how they can come off better (or worse) at the end of it. Yet on their road to development, can characters really afford to take a step (or several steps) back?
Say you’ve got a drug addict (no, not a story addict, that’s a healthy addiction). And they’ve been doing great, really improving. Suddenly, when they’re close to a year milestone of staying clean, they slip and fall into the most abysmal situation they could possibly get into. Of course, this introduces both disappointment and interest. Is there still a way out for them? How will they make up for it?
It’d say this scenario can be applied to any character: an arrogant know-it-all who’s finally shown a sign of humility and in a sudden act decides to let her pride take over; a murder who’s decided to stop killing, but can’t help himself when someone he cares about gets hurt; a playgirl who is finally engaged to be married only to have one more one night stand the night before the wedding.
If you ask me, those sound like pretty typical vices to cave in to. Why not? They’re human. The weaker of us humans who are probably in the majority and can relate to screwing up big time. And by weak, I mean some of us are strong about certain things, like drugs, and weak in other areas, like the internet. Can you blame us? The internet has a backspace button. Well, most of the time.
Last week, I saw Flight in theaters (which is actually a movie about an alcoholic, go figure!). And in the one moment of temptation right before a huge trial, the main character caves in so badly that you think it’s just about over. But extreme times call for extreme measures.
I think these little sink holes are what make watching characters stumble and fall and even roll down the mountain of development so entertaining. A lot of the times readers may wag their finger and say, “Oh, no. He messed up big time, you sure you don’t wanna fix that and set him back on track? He’s the hero, dontcha know. He should have made the right choice by now.”
When the conflict is resolved, the story is resolved. So unless a story is just about to end, expect a few sinkholes, and hold on to your seats. It’s about to get ugly, in a fascinating way.
Do you know of any characters that made bad decisions on their climb up?
-The Story Addict