“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” — Anna Quindlen
These are great words to live by, but they are also great words to create stories by. People aren’t interested in perfect characters.
If your Hero is already perfect in every way, why are they going on a journey in the first place? Why aren’t they just sitting around mediating on their perfection? Perfect characters are perfectly boring. Anytime you have a “perfect” character in a story, the only conflict you can really set to them is the long path towards realizing that they aren’t actually perfect.
The Greeks called it Hamartia and it’s broadly defined as an error made in ignorance, a “tragic flaw.” The Greeks believed that it was an important part of a tragedy. The Hero needs to slip up, needs to make a mistake and if he doesn’t, well…
Well, the problem is with developing empathy.
Endorsement driven advertising teaches us that people want to have something to aspire to, but in the back of their minds they have know that no matter how famous the celebrity is, they are still human. They need to be able relate to them in some small way and it’s that ability to relate that allows them to believe that a new pair of shoes will make up for a marked lack of athletic ability.
Hurt your characters, introduce flaws, give them vices, fears, anxieties and craft your plot to bring these out of the hidden places in their soul every once in a while. If your Hero’s afraid of the dark, put him in a blackout once or twice. If you Hero stammers when he’s nervous, make sure he does it in front of his love interest. Quirks and ticks and scars and bruises all serve to separate major characters from the stock puppets that we use to fill space on the page.
A story, a good story is almost always a “human” story, one where the Hero is giving up on being limited by the need to be perfect and instead working, as Anna so eloquently put it, at becoming themselves.
Too illustrate this I present you with a clip from the WB show Everwood. Yes, seriously, watch it.