Posted by: nancycurteman | March 13, 2013

Perfect Characters are Paper Characters

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paperPerfect characters are paper characters. They are flat and one-dimensional. Since they have already attained perfection, there is no need for further improvement. When there is no struggle to improve, there is no story. Not good.

What are perfect characters?

Perfect characters are story people who look and behave flawlessly. An example is the tall, dark, handsome, muscular male who boldly stands on the side of justice and fights against all that is evil and is a breathtaking lover. Another example is the brilliant, beautiful curvy blonde with a sexy voice and a come-hither smile. These characters simply do not exist in real life.

So, how can writers create interesting imperfect characters?

• Give them physical flaws:  overweight, frizzy hair, a scar, large nose, long neck, too tall, too short.

• Give them fears, faults and foibles: pushy, obsessive about (pick your obsession), too curious, tends to gossip, workaholic, insecure, makes excuses, rigid.

• Give them annoying mannerisms: fidgets, bites nails, loud laughter, grits teeth, cracks knuckles, bites lip.

• Give them emotional reactions: pouty, easily angered, easily hurt, afraid of the dark, persecution complex.

• Give them a backstory with a challenge from the past: a dysfunctional family, unhappy marriage that prevents them from forming new relationships, a tragic past event.

Readers are not perfect so they will appreciate the efforts of these flawed “flesh and blood” characters to grow, overcome, accept their flaws as the story progresses. In short, your characters will change. Change is the basis of a good story.

More tips on writing characters:

Developing Characters is No Mystery

How to Create Sympathetic Mystery Novel Characters

How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel

How to Write Character Arc in a Mystery Novel


  1. Good thoughts, NC.

    Some time ago, I pulled a Danielle Steel novel we inherited with the villa off the shelf and started reading. I got through Chapter One before derisive laughter at her characters inspired me to close the cover (for good) and turn out the light. At that point, a mere twenty-six pages into the book, I had realized that The Wedding should be re-titled, The Farce: A Fairy Tale of Epic Proportions.

    Without real characters, stories stall in their tracks. We need to plump up our “cardboard characters” so we can imagine them walking off the page.


    • I started a Danielle Steel novel years ago and stopped after only a couple of chapters. However, she must be doing something right to have such strong appeal.


  2. I agree about characters needing touches of real humanity to make stand out on the page. I might add making them want something out of the ordinary (I guess this falls under your “foibles” category).

    I would also suggest that “Perfect People” do exist. They exist in our minds, if not on the ground. They often exist because we force reality into our own view of how things should be. This is dangerous, of course, because the person or people we hold in such high regard cannot, in the end, live up to our image of them.


    • I agree, perfect people certainly do exist but only in our imagination.


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