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?
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.
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