I’ve been thinking a lot about character lately, and it seems to me that I’ve arrived at a Great and Important Truth:
We love characters not for their virtues, but for their flaws.
Imagine if you will a light beaming down from heaven and illuminating the world around you, while simultaneously an angelic chorus lifts their voices in a melodic “Ahhh!” That’s about how I feel about this statement. It’s the thing that makes everything click for me.
It’s why I smile when Remington Steele does something shamelessly lazy, when Amelia Peabody blithely ignores anyone’s viewpoint but her own, or when Kelli Copur of The Office says something brainlessly ditzy and self-absorbed.
The next time you find yourself smiling about a character, in a book or on TV, ask yourself whether that character is being good — or being bad? I’m willing to bet it’ll be the latter a good 75% of the time.
This doesn’t mean that a character doesn’t need virtues, or that we don’t like those virtues when we see them. If flaws are what causes you to love the character, virtues are what make this love possible in the first place.
Or, if flaws are the chocolate in your triple layer fudge cake, virtues are the flour. Not wildly exciting, but boy would you miss it if it were absent.