One of the mistakes some of us writers make is making our characters one-dimensional. For example, our heroes and heroines are very good people, virtually flawless even. And then we craft villains that are all but twirling their mustaches they’re so over-the-top bad.
In real life, almost none of us are all good or all bad. We (presumably the good guys) say things that hurt feelings, do careless or even reckless things, nurse grudges, have tempers, or worse, stay quiet when others say those hurtful things to us.
In fiction, our heroines kick butt and take names (well, my favorite kinds do!). They have no fears, no phobias, they don’t question their decisions. We show no weaknesses that allow them to be less than perfect.
Then we move onto the villains and we create them as if they’re cut from a pattern on a burlap sack. They’re so flawed as to be unredeemable. Even in life, people we see as dastardly can have some redeeming characteristics. Maybe they like dogs, or cats, or children, or have a soft spot for their mother.
The people in my own life are that way, the people I see as heroes (cue white hats and cheering), aren’t perfect. One speeds through town while talking about peace and tolerance.
One is lovely to everyone, even at the expense of getting her own feelings hurt. Another bravely sends a husband off to war and waves a sword to protect this community’s children yet has a genuine panic attack at the sight of a worm. (I’m probably the exception, a good guy with no flaws—okay—that was a joke. I’m more flawed than most!)
A person I see as being the type to tie a heroine to a railroad track prepares dinner for his wife.
The bottom line is this: no one is perfect. Even in fiction, if we can create complex, multidimensional characters, we can enrich our writing.
I’ll bet if you look at your life, you’ll find examples of this. And in our reading, people who give us something we don’t expect can make for a refreshing read.