Oh, the humanity!

We love a good character, and especially one who is particularly competent in their main field of endeavor. We enjoy watching Sherlock Holmes put seemingly random clues together and finger the crook. We love following Jason Bourne as he uses skills he doesn’t even know he has to escape yet another trap.

But we also can find those same characters annoying. We like competent characters, but perfect characters can get a little annoying after a while. We like to see that they’re not good at everything.

I saw this demonstrated recently in a middle-grade series my sons keep pressing me to read, “The Ranger’s Apprentice” by John Flanagan. At the point in the series where I am currently, the protagonist, Will, has finally become a full-fledged ranger and has been awarded his own fief to watch over. His first act is to save the fief from marauding vikings for which the local lord and his battlemaster were not prepared, in spite of that being their duty. Will, through demonstration of skill, coupled with his reputation, some diplomacy and charity, defuses the situation.

It’s a great start, but we haven’t come to love Will as a character through four previous books because he’s the big, tough ranger, always in control of the situation. And the series is going to take a boring turn if Will is good at his job all the time.

Fortunately, Will has a few gaps in his competence. For one, he seems to be trying too hard to do things just like his taciturn mentor Halt would have done. I haven’t made it far into the book yet, but I suspect this will cause him a few problems. But more interesting–and more fun–is the fact that Will is pretty much clueless about girls. And he’s got two girls interested in him. Watching this strong, skilled tough guy get all tongue-tied and awkward is fun!

Not every weakness you give a character has to provide comic relief. Flanagan is writing for pre-teen boys, who both like humor and can relate to Will’s clueless-ness about girls. In another genre and age group the weaknesses can be less funny and more detrimental to the protagonist’s pursuit of objectives. But it’s good to have at least one thing that can make otherwise annoyingly perfect heroes a little more human.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.