A novelist I respect named James Scott Bell gave some writing advice I think applies to more than just fiction. In his book Conflict and Suspense he says, “Perfect people are not interesting to us. We need to see flaws in the characters as well as strengths.”
He’s talking about building conflict into a story, of course, but I think there’s something true about this idea in life, too.
In the past I’ve had friends who’ve been incredibly impressive. They accomplish great things, have winsome personalities and nearly everybody who meets them is attracted. There’ve been a few, though, I’ve found it hard to connect with. I remember meeting with the assistant of a dynamic pastor many years ago who told me his boss has no friends. He is rarely vulnerable, always setting an example, will not admit flaws (unless they also make him sound tough or righteous) and surrounds himself by underlings. He goes from the stage to the green room and sits alone till the next service. He said in his years of working with him he rarely, if ever, saw him have a lunch or dinner or even a round of golf with anybody who doesn’t work for him or can’t advance his career.
This, to me, is an uninteresting character. It’s somebody who is difficult to connect with.
But tell me one flaw. I mean quietly over a beer, you know, just admit you cry while watching Oprah or you sometimes struggle with porn or you’re jealous of your boss and suddenly there’s a bit of velcro on your soul and we can connect. I’m not sure why it happens except maybe it helps me believe I’m not alone, that I’m flawed and you’re flawed and we are in this thing together.
I’ve found that admitting my flaws does 2 things:
- 1. It helps me connect with people. I’m wise about who I admit flaws to, of course, but when I do it’s an honest invitation to be close and connected. This isn’t so much strategic as it is organic, of course, but I’m amazed at how much deeper I go with an existing friend when I open up.
2. It weeds out the game players. There are, of course, people who live life as politicians. They will share the right amount of vulnerability when they need to, but ultimately they are climbers, trying to gain attention or money or power or whatever. Being honestly vulnerable with these people makes them uncomfortable and sooner or later they will just go away. They don’t want to connect, they see life as a game and they intend to win.
All in all, connecting with good people and weeding out the game players only makes life better.
I think James Scott Bell’s advice is true: Perfect people aren’t very interesting.
Why put them in your story?