Everyone Has a Weakness

>> Sunday, May 3, 2009

Characters. I've mentioned before that I love them, that they are the key to my fiction. You all also know that blew off everything else to drool over and enjoy Wolverine on Friday. I'm not braggin', just sayin'.

But it got me to thinking. One thing that makes Wolverine so popular is, I think, not his own powers or invulnerabilities, but those things he is vulnerable to.

I remember once telling my husband that a character he was playing with was "too perfect". He was the best at this and that and the other, couldn't be killed, yadda yadda yadda. I explained that people didn't find characters like that appealing. People like to see characters that can fight the odds to success, that have weaknesses, failings, things they don't do well. Who can identify with perfection?

And its those bits of identification either with features of our own or features we wish we have that enable us to really like a character on screen or on paper, allowing ourselves to imagine ourselves in a similar situation. Too perfect, too flawless, too invulnerable - what do we have in common?

So, what about Wolverine can we identify? I mean, he has long claws of a mythical metal that he can slide in and out of his fists at will. Most of us don't have that. And he can heal from almost all physical damage, even brain damage. We can't do that. And his skeleton is infused with that same mythical metal (due to a very painful process) - and that's not really something that's common.

But he does have characteristics we can understand. For instance, he cares about people and people who care about people can have their fears for those they love used - and can be healed by that love. He's short tempered and his strong emotions can blind him to the big picture and lead him to do things he might not be proud of if he were calm. He can make poor decisions like anyone else. He can (and is) manipulated and outsmarted by others. He can feel pain, both physical and emotional.

And even his superpowers can be identified with to an extent. He is resilient and many of us are as well. We can survive things that might kill another.

Understanding and acknowledging those vulnerabilities makes him more lifelike, more believable, more appealing than if he were perfect. I have two characters that are too close to perfect in my newest novel. That's leavened, to an extent, because they are each others' weakness, but I would do myself a favor by adding to their disadvantages during my next rewrite.

So, when you're writing a character or dreaming of your perfect novel, remember that someone who's good at everything, who always makes the right decision, who never misunderstands someone or makes a mistake may seem like the "perfect" protagonist, but really, he or she is really missing a few "perfect" features. You know, like kryptonite. Tomorrow, I might talk about Edward from Twilight.


  • Maine

    I'm not fan of x-mens, but i used to like anti-heroes in marvel comics. anti-heroes are something that always attracted me to life. they're not vilians nor they're heroes. but they add spice to story.

    x-men origin series will definitely cash in when magneto will release. On point of weakness, mine is that " i took wrong decision when i'm too angry or feel offended". :p

    anyway, have you ever tried manga, animes? (japenese). Bleach anime is perfect to see max no of anti-heroes and vilians without any vulnerability. check aizen souske of bleach, he seems to be without any vulnerability. ;)

    looking forward to your next post on this.

  • Stephanie B

    The movies represent the extent of my fandom so I'm not really either.

    I have seen many anime (my husband and daughter are big fans) and I've read a few manga. I'm not hard core, though I know what you mean. I'm actually a fan of Fruits Basket if I have a favorite.

  • flit

    oh do talk about Edward from Twilight... maybe you'll come up with some redeeming feature and I'll someday be able to stand to finish the book LOL

  • Shakespeare

    I love Edward, despite his perfection... but the books would be fra more interesting if he had something that made him truly vulnerable. What I would not want is something that constantly got in the way of his affection for Belle... that would make the series little more than a stupid sit-com (like the whole Ross-Rachel thing on friends, which it sort of does in the first three books, anyway).

    Part of Wolverine's vulnerability is how weak his abilities are against so many of the other X-Men. He's strong, and he has those claws, but he's really no match for so many of the others... I think of how much he couldn't match Magneto's ability to manipulate metal (talk about pain!)... but Wolverine doesn't give up, even if he knows he is significantly outmatched. He has to rely on the help from others, though, and that's in itself hard for him.

    As you can see, I'm a HUGE fan of Wolverine. He's right up there with other comic book heroes... far more appealing than Superman for me. Right up there with Harry Potter.

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