Flawed vs TSTL

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Lately I’ve been thinking about the thin line between love and hate. That small area between a flawed character that everyone praises and loves as authentic or genuine versus the too stupid to live kind that have bumped over that line.

I really hate perfect characters. The Mary Sue/Marty Stu’s that are so perfect they fart rainbows. Everyone loves them and these characters have never met an enemy or an empty bank account. If I come across this kind of character I want to drop kick it off the Eiffel tower and hope it hits every rivet on its journey down. Perfection is boring, it’s ridiculous, and rarely is it fun to read.

So clearly flawed characters are much more appealing. I like it when a character has some grit, when they’re not perfect. I’ll even take a raging asshole over perfection. I like it when someone has to struggle, thus making the happy ending more worthwhile. I don’t mind if they change or become better, but that’s not the point nor even necessary. I want the character to have some depth, some angst (of some kind), and something that makes me root for them.

Yet that line of creating a deliciously flawed hero you can root for and get behind is oh so close to creating a terminally flawed idiot that would most likely drown in their own sweat.

[As an aside, has anyone seen What Would Ryan Lochte Do? That is an example of a TSTL real life human. Poor man. Hope he’s watching his pennies.]

One example I can think of is when the author clearly knows their character is stupid or acts stupidly. Part of this makes me feel like we’re in on the joke together. The author doesn’t expect me to buy this, they know how ridiculous it is too! But this also backfires because if everyone – the author, all the other characters, and me as the reader – know this person is being a total moron, then the character has slipped over the line.

Or perhaps even worse is when the author doesn’t seem to realize just how much the character is a simpleton. They need some kind of drama or misunderstanding so bam! Stupid actions or ridiculous leaps in logic, anything that will get to the ultimate plot goal. By this I mean the more than usual events. The ones that are so over the top you actually stop and say “really?!” Of which I have, many times. I wonder if the author either doesn’t know a better way to go about this or they think readers won’t mind.

I’m sure this line toeing can’t be very easy. I admire authors who can create a wonderfully flawed human being that is not perfect, doesn’t act perfect, and yes does stupid things but has a core of natural honesty about them that makes you believe in them. It just bothers me that these seem to be the treasured finds.

What about anyone else?
Do you like flawed characters or do you find they’re often too stupid to live?

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8 thoughts on “Flawed vs TSTL

  1. I personally love flawed characters, but as you say, it’s a fine line between flaw and stupidity. Whether a character crosses that line is subjective so what I think is stupid behaviour may seem perfectly reasonable to another reader.

    I have a personal bugbear about characters who believe that they are better able to deal with dangerous or difficult situations than those who are actually trained to do so. That sort of pigheaded flaw usual ends up with the characters acting TSTL. The only exception to this would be in the mystery/detective genre where the amateur detective ends up solving the mystery.

    • Very true on both accounts. Everyone has different pet peeves and different levels of “stupidity.” So like everything else in reading, it comes down to the individual.

      I do however think that books tend to take the easy way out. Rather than figure out a more realistic/complicated way of getting to the plot point, they have the characters do something unrealistic or frankly stupid. I think the feeling is that people are sometimes stupid so it’s ok.

  2. Tam says:

    I don’t like to think of them as flawed, I like to think of them as normal. People like me who screw up sometimes but in general have good intentions. (Although the occasional total dick can be fun to read). I agree that people who can do no wrong and always have the answer and things conveniently pop up just when they need them get annoying. Because they aren’t REAL. It’s one thing to read fantasy. I was just thinking about James Lear last night (I have a brilliant idea for a book for him to write) but you know it is completely over the top and meant to be that way. But when your intention is to portray fairly realistic people, then make them realistic.

    • Sorry I do mean normal. I just use flawed in comparison to the perfect characters. I usually describe them as more well rounded, normal people. I don’t necessarily think it’s unrealistic or bad that sometimes characters do really stupid things. It happens. I’ve done my share of ridiculous TSTL actions. I think what happens is the culmination of multiple instances.

      Fantasy is one thing, though I think it’s pretty far and few between in m/m. Most are meant to be realistic romances. Even when you get beyond contemporary it’s rare to find a sheer, pleasure driven story.

      • Tam says:

        I knew what you meant. 🙂 Some people DO love flawed though, I always think of Adam from Immortality is the Suck. Yet I liked him as a character, however that is a pretty fine line for an author to pull off. And I agree, romance tends to be more “serious”, maybe erotica lends itself to more fantasy frolicking.

  3. Perfect characters have me grinding me teeth after a while… and so do TSTL characters. Flawed/normal characters are the best. 🙂

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