{Discussion} Weak vs. Weakly-Written Characters

 Do you hate the character because they’re weak…
or because they’re weakly-written?

Last week’s discussion was about ‘strong’ characters, particularly females. (Though, males were brought up.) Strong characters are all the rage. It’s expected to write a strong male and strong females have become the status quo for any author who wants to be taken seriously. Why? Because readers like strong characters! Everyone wants to envision themselves as the strong character, but what about the ‘weak’ characters?

Is a character only worthy if they are courageous? Is a character only smart if they have the answer in seconds? Is a character only bold if they’re outspoken (and sometimes mouthy)? Is a character only the hero if they lunge into the heat of action? Why is it so important for characters to be ‘strong’? That seems highly unrealistic, especially when some of the ‘weak’ characters are the most important. (Sidekicks, people. Sidekicks are there for a reason!)

There’s more to ‘weak’ Characters

For example, one popular, well-known character who could be classified as ‘weak’ for at least part of the series would be Neville Longbottom. He’s not overly-courageous, but he stands up for what he believes in. Bad things happen to him all the time, but he doesn’t pack it up and go home. He seems afraid of just about everything and we often think he’s weak because of it, but he has internal strength. His strength isn’t obvious like Harry or Hermione or Ron. Granted, it’s this internal strength that blossoms and becomes an outward strength later in the series and so Neville becomes a more obvious ‘strong’ character, but he seems to be a ‘weak’ character in the beginning. Now back to other weak characters.

That weak character you’re so frustrated about because they’re cowering in the corner and not jumping up to save someone could actually be waging a war within about their fear. They could be brave, but their fear is stronger. In fact, they could be that character who taught your strong character how to be ‘strong’ or pushed them to stand up for others. Perhaps they didn’t use actions because they’re still looking for their own strength, but they can still inspire already strong characters. What I’m saying is, it’s the weak characters that strong characters are out to protect. So, in reality, aren’t they actually what makes the strong character ‘strong’ in the first place?

Weakly-Written Mistakes

Though, don’t mistake ‘weak’ with ‘weakly-written’ because some writers struggle with this idea. They’re so accustomed to writing ‘strong’ characters that they don’t know how to properly execute writing ‘weak’ characters and end up writing ‘weakly-written’ characters instead. Not following? Let me explain.

That character above who was cowering in the corner. You didn’t like them because they were cowering in the corner, but you not liking them is a response to them as a character. You dislike them. That ability to dislike a character means the character is well written.

Realism

Now, if your response to that character was more along the lines of ‘I can’t understand this character. I can’t relate to them. They don’t seem real.’ Then that is a weakly-written character. They key to any good character is realism. If the character doesn’t seem real, that’s on the writer and the writer needs to improve their craft, but it’s hard.

It’s hard for writers to make ‘weak’ characters because they’re not the ‘ideal’ character. The ideal character is someone the reader can relate to, can root for, can care about, who’s active. This often ends up being a strong character. Sometimes the strong character is actually the villain! But weak characters aren’t often likely to be as active and therefore aren’t as easy to rally behind. For this reason, it’s a difficult path for writers to tread on, but it’s a very important tool to have because not everyone can be ‘strong’. That’s like saying everyone’s a Gryffindor. They’re not. (I’m not. :p)

Recognizing the ‘weak’ characters

The world is made of all different kinds of people and books should be, too. So, I think it’s important to start implementing these ‘weak’ characters into books and making sure writers (and readers) know the difference between ‘weak’ and ‘weakly-written’. Readers need to understand the difference, too, because that’s how they can tell a good writer from one who’s inexperienced.

But this is just my opinion on the matter of ‘weak’ characters. What’s your opinion? Have you seen a weak character that you thought was amazing? Have you seen ‘weakly-written’ characters? How could you tell they were ‘weakly written’?

Leave me your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!


And check out my discussion from last week:
‘Strong’ Female Characters

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12 thoughts on “{Discussion} Weak vs. Weakly-Written Characters

  1. I agree, although it is the weak characters I find I grow more attached to. I find most ‘weak’ characters are more real. They have more regular human traits and their point of view is usually in line with what the reader is thinking. It is nice to pretend we are the main character but the weak characters are in a sense more normal. This could just be me… since I love reading books about the underdogs of society and flawed peoples’ lives…
    Then there is also the case where the main character is weak… not weakly written but in all sense of the matter they are the weakest person in the book. They don’t have powers, or super strength but it is their humanity and their weaknesses that change into strengths. A human surrounded by people with advanced intelligence that tells them they are too sensitive or not strong enough, but it is their sensitivity and their lack of strength that saves the day.

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    1. I find it interesting that you relate to the ‘weak’ character easier than you relate to the strong character. I think it has a lot to do with flaws. As humans we are flawed. We have weaknesses. We like to see those weaknesses in others because it makes us feel less abnormal.

      On the other side of the argument, we like to see weak characters because they have somewhere to go. They are at the bottom of the totem pole. They can’t sink any lower. We expect them to rise. We see their ‘weaknesses’/their ‘flaws’ and are given this idea that those are the things the character will overcome later on. Strong characters don’t offer that. More importantly, strong characters aren’t guaranteed to overcome anything because they are already ‘strong’. What more could change about them? (Besides becoming less annoying. >.>)

      MM. That totally reminds me of the movie I, ROBOT because of how humans are flawed and are therefore weak and will cause their own destruction. Yet, it’s their ability to feel and reason beyond just rational that makes them such a unique species. (And also is what enables them to overcome the robots in the end.)

      Also, this reminds me of a quote by Albert Einstein: Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid. Weaknesses are only weaknesses when compared to other people, yeah?

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      1. Exactly. It is seeing where these weak people will end up that makes it worth reading. I want to see what choices they make and how they overcome their greatest weaknesses. I think The Good Dinosaur is a great example of that. Arlow is afraid of everything and it is by overcoming his fear that he survives and saves the “creature” he feared at the beginning of the story.

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  2. I agree with some of what you’re saying although I wouldn’t call Neville weak. He’s clumsy and awkward but he was never weak, that was shone from the beginning. He definitely developed the most as a character but I still don’t think that makes him weak. I also don’t think that I read about weak characters often (or that I just don’t see them that way). The only character that I would consider weak is Aimee from The Spectacular Now, she let’s too many people walk all over her and doesn’t know how to make decisions for herself or how to put herself first

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    1. Ah! I can always rely on you to be my Devil’s Advocate and, for that, I thank you! I knew someone would call me out on my Neville Longbottom reference, claiming he was strong the entire time. After all, he was a Gryffindor. And Gryffindors are marked by their courage. Yet, I can still see him as a semi-weak character. Not fully, naturally. He does stand up against the three in the first book/movie when they try to sneak out at night. That’s bravery. That’s courage. That’s strength.

      However, I think his weakness is more along the lines of letting his fear conquer him in other ways, or allowing life to pitch him the curveball(that was probably a horrible analogy, but it’s been a long day.) For example, in book/movie two, he gets strung up by the cornish pixies. His weakness in this scene was not knowing how to prevent such a thing from happening or to get himself down when it did. Another weakness of his could be labeled as his inability to stand up for himself or simply his natural awkward tendencies. Though, Neville definitely starts to grow in the fourth book, I think.

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      1. Being awkward doesn’t make someone weak. Neville wasn’t the only one who didn’t know how to stop the pixies and again he started standing up for himself in the first book. I get what you’re saying I just don’t think that makes him weak. I also don’t attribute it soley to the fact that he’s a Gryffindor

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        1. And that is where we can agree to disagree. ^.^ Like you don’t see awkward as a weakness, but I see it as a social weakness, an inability to communicate consistently and adequately with other humanbeings. It borders on the sense of confidence also being courage and I don’t, personally, feel that he finds his confidence until much later in the series. But you don’t see it that way and that’s fine.

          Oh! And I must clarify. I don’t attribute his courage to being a Gryffindor. I attribute him being a Gryffindor to his courage. It was there all along, but I think it took him a little longer than other students to find it.

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          1. Actually, I agree that he doesn’t find his confidence until later in the series. And I agree that awkwardness is a social weakness, I just don’t think that the way he interacts with other people is important enough to overshadow his strengths.

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  3. I agree. ‘Weak’ characters aren’t actually bad. It’s kind of like John Watson compared to Sherlock. Obviously, he’s not as intelligent. He’s not as quick. He pales in comparison to Sherlock. However, Watson’s ‘weaknesses’ are empathy, kindness, understanding, and doing the morally right thing. I think the problem is when a ‘weak’ character is poorly written. Weak characters can be easy to relate to. In one of my favourite novels, ‘Just Listen’, the main character has so many faults. She’s beautiful, yes, but she’s rarely honest. She tells people what they want to hear. She’s not as strong as some of the others in the novel. And I like it. It’s real, it’s honest.

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    1. Thank you so much for your voice in this topic, Carla! ^.^ Glad you came back.

      First off, I love what you listed as ‘weaknesses’. The weaknesses are often the characteristics that make a person ‘good’ and they are often classified as ‘weak’ because these traits keep them from doing whatever they want. i.e. Superman is sometimes considered a ‘weak’ character because he refuses to kill people no matter how bad they are, even super villains. Yet, that weakness is what makes him a good person. It’s kind of an odd situation, really. :/

      While I have not read JUST LISTEN, I like this example. Her weakness is not being able to say what she truly feels/thinks, but rather is an appeasement of the people around her. I can imagine this is quite relatable as many teenagers encounter this at some point in their life: peer pressure to fit the status quo. It’s a shame, but it is definitely the weakness that makes her relatable. Lovely example!

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      1. Thank you so much!! I’m really glad you like it!! Just Listen is one of my favourite novels, but if you ever decide to read it, please note trigger warnings!!

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