strengths and weaknesses

September 28, 2010

I mentioned in my blog post on believable characters that main characters shouldn’t be perfect. Give them flaws – but not just any flaw. For example, having a character who’s reliable, hardworking, and organized, and then giving her the flaw of always being ten minutes late… no, that doesn’t work.

To explain, let me talk a bit about my day job, because sometimes, being a psychologist and being a writer have a lot in common. One of the things I do for a living is counsel clients who abused alcohol or drugs. In one session, I have them write down their strengths and their weaknesses, then (as a homework) they have to ask a friend, spouse, family member, or colleague what they think the client’s strengths and weaknesses are.

If they can, I have them ask several people, since we have different roles in our family, job, and circle of friends, so our boss sees a different side of us than our family, and our friends might see us different from the colleagues at work.

Why don’t you try it? Go ahead and make your own list of strengths and weaknesses.

After I rearrange them a bit, the clients’ lists might look like this:

Client # 1:

Strengths Weaknesses
nurturing smothering
compassionate overly sensitive
relaxed lazy; procrastination

Client #2:

Strengths Weaknesses
reliable can’t say no
organized not spontaneous enough
precise perfectionist

Client #3:

Strengths Weaknesses
determined stubborn
honest blunt
ambitious workaholic
energetic impulsive

I’m sure you noticed and already suspected it would be like this. It’s not a coincidence which flaw appears on which list. There’s a connection between strengths and flaws. They are, basically, two ends of a continuum or two sides of the same coin, and you can’t have one side without the other.

Sometimes, my clients even have heated discussions when one client wants to write down a trait in the “flaw” column, while the other thinks it’s a strength. Well, depending on the situation, it can be either.

So, when you create your characters, make sure not to assign them random flaws. The flaws should be the strength taken to an extreme.

More about creating characters in a later blog post.



  1. […] Fiction « free short story strengths and weaknesses » Three-dimensional characters September 26, 2010 When I think of my favorite […]

  2. […] ranch’s horses—and almost ends up killing them when she accidentally gives them too much oats. Here’s a link to a blog post about strengths and […]

  3. […] A blog post with excellent examples on how a single trait can be either a strength or weakness, by Jae’s Fiction […]

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