March 5th marks the beginning of the Iditarod. “The Last Great Race on Earth” pits man and beast in a race covering 1,150 miles over some of the most dangerous, intimating wilderness in the world. Equipped with only a sled and a loyal team of dogs, the competitors are tested against jagged mountain ranges, frozen rivers and lakes, thick forests, arctic deserts, and wind-whipped coastline. If the terrain wasn’t challenging enough, this all happens during brutal temperatures below zero, blinding blizzards, and long arctic nights.
It takes character to compete in such a grueling, hostile race. This year’s competitors once again include Lance Mackey who is going for his fifth consecutive win after overcoming drug and alcohol addictions plus beating throat cancer.
Talk about character. Lance Mackey is adventurous, ambitious, spirited, and flawed.
Let me tell you about my grandmother. She was a woman with no equal. A wife and mother of four, published author, English teacher, artist, woodcarver, photographer, fisherman, sled dog breeder, and musher. Besides being a wife and mother, all the other accomplishments where achieved after she had turned forty. Not only was she creative, daring, and tenacious, she sucked at cooking, refused to clean, and routinely had strawberry ice cream for dinner and pie for breakfast. My grandfather worshipped her.
My grandmother in her sixties.
When I begin crafting a character, I develop the flaws first. Flaws are interesting. I say this as a writer not as a wife. Sometimes the flaw is big enough that it becomes what the character needs to overcome. Lance Mackey had to conquer his drug addictions in order to become an Iditarod champion. Now my grandmother being addicted to strawberry ice cream is fun. I can play with that and have. In one of my books, my hero is a health nut and my heroine is a junk food fan. When my villain poisons a salad, these flaws save her life, but incapacitate my hero’s.
My husband has flaws that can frustrate the hell out of me, and I know that I have a few that drive him insane. Being a writer gives me the power to exploit his flaws or finally solve those imperfections. At least, fictionally.
I love reading about strong, bigger than life characters, even gods and demons with their other worldly powers, but it’s the flaws that make me truly care about them.
If you’re a writer, what flaws have you integrated into your characters that make them fascinating? As a reader, what are some of the flaws you enjoy in characters?