This is a guest post by Rayne Hall. You may know Rayne from her successful Writer’s Craft series. And you may remember how we wrote together Copywriting: Get Paid to Write Promotional Texts. Rayne is also the author of Storm Dancer, one of the finest fantasy books I’ve ever read. It features a flawed hero, which is the subject of her post. The book will be on a special 99c offer until April 30, 2022, to celebrate the launch of the new edition.
I like characters with weaknesses, because they’re like real people, and their flaws make the story vivid. What would Charles Dicken’s tale ‘A Christmas Carol’ be without the sour stinginess of Scrooge, or Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ without Mr. Darcy’s arrogance?
Unlike those dull characters who are already perfect at the novel’s start, flawed heroes need to learn lessons, often difficult and painful ones. They have to wrestle with their weaknesses, make harrowing choices, adapt, and mature. The selfish person learns consideration, the hard-hearted one compassion, the coward courage, and the miser generosity. I can grow with them, without having to suffer the actual anguish and embarrassment.
Many novels feature the main character’s journey of growth, sometimes between the lines, sometimes as the main plot. This journey fascinates me. The character cannot begin to change until he acknowledges his weakness. When he changes, he is tested, often to the extreme.
The classic novel Four Feathers by A.E.W. Mason is the story of a coward growing and redeeming himself. Henry Feversham (spelled “Faversham” in some movie versions) is afraid of fighting in a war, and also frightened to admit to his father that he doesn’t want to follow the family tradition of becoming an army officer. About to be sent into battle, he resigns his commission. Shunned for cowardice by his family, his friends, and his fiancée, he redeems himself with acts of courage in the face of dangers and hardships far greater than those he had sought to avoid.
One of my favourite novels, The Kite Runner, is another story of a coward who grows and redeems himself, but his guilt goes deeper. As a young boy, Amir failed his friend, witnessing him being raped rather than coming to his aid. Shamed by his cowardice, he frames his friend for a crime, so he would not constantly be reminded of his shameful cowardice. When he realises the full extent of his betrayal and seeks to make amends, it’s too late: Hassan is dead. Then a situation opens up which replicates what had happened in childhood, but on a much larger scale. The danger and suffering he must undergo to rescue Hassan’s son from the clutches of a Taliban paedophile are so great that few humans could bear them, but he is determined to do what it takes. As readers, we root for him that this time he’ll get it right.
The flawed character needs to find the will to change within himself, but another person’s love and trust are often the catalysts. Especially rewarding are the stories in which the love of a good woman gives a flawed man the courage to change. In real life, bad men seldom change, and they often drag the good woman down with them. But in fiction, we can see it happen. We root for those characters and cheer for them.
In my dark epic fantasy novel Storm Dancer, warrior Dahoud is a troubled hero with a dark past. He has a conscience heavier than a bricklayer’s tray, and more curses on his head than a camel has fleas. How can he learn to control the evil inside him? What will he have to sacrifice to redeem himself?
Magician Merida is the only woman who can defeat the demon in Dahoud – if he doesn’t destroy her first.
Do you like to read about flawed heroes? If yes, what attracts you to them? Who is your favourite flawed hero in fiction? Tell us about this in the Comments section. Leave a comment, and I’ll reply.