Monday, May 14, 2012

Vulnerable, Just Like Me: How to Make Your Characters Relatable

Cover art!
I am very fond of notes. This note says that this blog post might make more sense if you read Chirault first, but I will try to keep that from being a requirement. If anything in here is confusing, let me know and I'll try to explain it better.

The other day one of my friends linked me to a webcomic that fascinated me. Not necessarily because of the art (which I liked a lot, despite the fact that I was unable to recognize anyone besides the two main characters and the handwriting became difficult to read halfway through), but because of the characterization.

The main character is a demon named Kiran, and he is the strong, silent, epically awesome type. When he is introduced he single-handedly takes down a demon that was attacking a man without breaking a sweat.

He's compassionate enough to give a ride to the other main character when she can't keep up. (She's the tiny one with the cat ears and tail.  Don't ask me, I didn't make it up.) He will not only go back to save the trapped woman, he'll allow himself to get caught rescuing her.

And when he's on the verge of toppling over from exhaustion and it turns out that the fight has just begun, his only response to being asked if he was able to fight is "I'm going to have to be, aren't I?" Kiran is, without a doubt, a hero.

And yet he is so completely relatable that I found myself loving him for more than his heroics. Thirty-seven pages in, we learn he freaks out when confronted with bugs. He acts irrationally, doesn't like admitting his flaws, and forgets to ask for important information.

In fact, him freaking out is almost half the comic. My favorite line is when he defeats a giant demon by getting eaten alive and destroys it from the inside out. Does he have a clever line or a heroic pose? No, he does not. All he has to say is "That was disgusting. I think I'm going to be sick."

It's amazing. I love it. Kiran's a hero, yes, but he doesn't show off like your typical hero. He has weaknesses, huge character flaws, and he's even ridiculous at times. (He's an insanely powerful demon terrified of small bugs. How is that not awesome?)

I have a terrible time making my main character Arden flawed and vulnerable. I don't want her to be terrified of small bugs, I want her to be awesome and superhuman and do everything right. Reading Chirault made me realize that these crippling (and amusing) flaws can be very effective to help the audience bond with the character.

It's a lesson I'm still in the process of learning, and it will probably take me some time before I fully understand it. In the meantime, what weaknesses do your characters have? How do their weaknesses make them more relatable to your readers?

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