by Bryan Patrick Avery
In the world of magic, there’s a theory called the “Too-Perfect” principle. The idea is that a magic effect can be so perfect that the solution becomes obvious, thus ruining the trick. One example of this is the Bill on Lemon effect where a signed bill disappears and then is found inside a lemon (or other fruit). There’s only one way the trick can be performed so the solution becomes rather obvious.
To keep an effect from being too perfect, magicians add red herrings to hide the obvious solution, thus making the effect more interesting and mysterious. The result is an effect that is far more entertaining and engaging.
The same thing can happen in our stories. If our characters are too perfect, they can ruin an otherwise good story. Adding imperfections to our characters can add conflict, suspense, and deeper meaning. One of my favorite imperfect characters is Teddy Fitzroy, from Stuart Gibbs’ FunJungle series. A brilliant kid, Teddy lives at FunJungle, the world’s largest zoo, with his parents. Teddy repeatedly solves mysteries at FunJungle, including the murder of a hippo, the theft of a koala, and the poaching of rhino horns. Though he is an adept investigator, Teddy is not without his flaws.
Teddy tends to cause a lot of trouble. He gives chimps water balloons to throw at guests, drops a fake human arm into the shark tank, and causes an elephant stampede. His antics tend to land him in trouble, and quite often impede his ability to investigate. The fact that he is able to overcome these challenges makes Teddy a far more compelling character than if he were just a picture-perfect kid.
The School for Good and Evil, written by Soman Chainani, features two magically imperfect characters. Sophie, who believes she is destined to be a princess and live happily ever after, and Agatha, draped in black with a wicked black cat, are transported to the School for Good and Evil. When Agatha is dropped into the School for Good and Sophie ends up in the School for Evil they are both sure that a mistake has been made.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Sophie is not the perfect princess she believes she is. Even more surprising, Agatha is not the evil witch we believe her to be. As the two girls go through the school year, we begin to think that, perhaps, they are right where they are supposed to be. Even Sophie and Agatha begin to embrace what they learn about themselves. Their imperfections make Sophie and Agatha characters that we care about and want to root for.
Here are a few of my other flawed favorites:
Ben Ripley, from Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
Clementine, from Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Astrid, from Roller Girl by Victories Jamieson
Nate Foster, from Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
There are, of course, many others. Our flawed characters can turn a good story into a great one. Here’s a little homework for you based on something I recently did for my current work in progress. Take your main character’s greatest strength and make it a weakness. For example, if they’re outgoing, make them socially anxious. If they’re extremely organized, make them horribly sloppy. You get the idea. Changing one character trait in my main character got my story unstuck and, I think, made the story much better.
That’s all for now. Happy writing. Have a magical month.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the fabulous debut author/illustrator Maggie Brown.
And 5th Mondays will feature a surprise reprise from over nine years of archives.