We’ve all done it – fallen in love with the characters we’ve created. Then comes the temptation to make them ‘nice’, to make sure that the audience will love them as much as we do. After all, what’s the point in creating a character that no one wants to watch?
It’s one of the worst things we can do to our characters. They need some redeeming qualities, sure, but if you sand down the rough edges too far they become unbelievable and uninteresting.
The best characters have just the right balance of qualities we admire and those we don’t. They need strengths, yes, lots of them, redeeming qualities, things about them that make us want to see them overcome their struggles. But they also need flaws. No one is perfect and if your character has no flaws I don’t believe in them. It also means you can’t create any conflict or drama from them.
Make your characters intersting. Don’t let them always do the ‘right’ thing. I shouted at the telly when I watched Don Draper flatly deny Betty’s accusation that he was having an affair (Mad Men). I desperately wanted him to confess, to do the right thing, but Don is fascinating because he’s a car crash, not in spite of it.
We need to glimpse inside your character’s head, to feel we’re starting to understand them. Nice is fine, just as long as there’s a hint that underneath they might not be quite as nice as we first thought.