Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Take Charge of the Kryptonite

Yesterday I learned a valuable writing lesson...from Jon Stewart.

Yep I said that right. Stewart interviewed JK Rowling and amidst random discussions about  magic and wonder of monarchy, they started talking about writing and what makes a good character.

You can watch the whole video here: Jon Stewart Interviews JK Rowling, but the crucial part comes at the end when Stewart says "Without Kryptonite, you've got nothing."

Ah, genius!

His underwear is on the outside and we still love him! Source

Superman is awesomesauce. He can do anything! Fly over buildings, race a speeding train, stop a bullet! But even a man who can look sexy wearing tights and a cape would lose much of his charm without a weakness. 

Enter kryptonite. The  glowing green substance that renders the man of super to a powerless puddle of mush.

I think most writers understand that readers are not going to accept a practically-perfect-in-every-way character unless you're Mary Poppins.

However, a lot of writers fail to utilize their characters flaws to the maximum extent. If Superman knew where all the kryptonite was stored and only had to avoid those warehouses in order to beat the bad guy, the story would be boring. But if the bad guy forces him to go through a gauntlet of the green stuff to save his precious Lois. we got ourselves a story.

Once you've given your character a flaw, force them to overcome it in order to "win". Is your character forcefully independent and driving everyone away? Make him team up with an unlikely partner in order to solve the mystery. Is your protagonist self-centered? Force her into a situation where she has to make a sacrifice for others in order to beat the antagonist.

Flaws make our characters more realistic and help our readers relate to them, but don't write 'em up and put 'em on a shelf. Make those flaws work a double shift and add some extra tension to your novel. 
 Take charge of the kryptonite!


  1. Great post -- without flaws, what do our heroes have to overcome? Part of the battle isn't just against the villain -- it's also against themselves.

    The video was awesome, too -- thanks for linking (loved the part where Rowling calls out Luke Skywalker for being sexless -- ha!)

    1. Thanks Nickie, she has a point. :)

    2. Wow. Blogger just ate my comment. Anyhow, this is a great post and very true. If people aren't perfect, how can we expect characters to be. Characters are people too!

    3. Yep, unfortunately too many writers forget to give their characters flaw. Too bad, because that's one of the funnest parts to write. :)

  2. This is a great post! I love your ideas on how to make flaws pull double duty. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love flawed characters. They're so much more interesting and I'm more willing to root for them.

  4. I love flaws!

    Sometimes, I think I give my characters TOO many flaws. Maybe b/c I have so many? =)

    Great post, Sarah. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great article. I agree with everyone else. To me it's fun giving the characters flaws then seeing how they overcome them, or if they do.

  6. Yes, totally force them to overcome a horrid flaw to prevail. I'll keep the kryptonite image in my mind as I write-thanks!

  7. I love flawed characters! There's no redemption without it.


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