Some writers can get away with bigger-than-life heroes. Some can write of people with perfect resolve and absolute morality… and make you almost believe that such people exist.
The media, however, had taught us that lawyers do illegal things, and that a cop can’t be trusted to stay drug free. Experience has shown us that religious leaders have the same faults as the rest of us. We have learned the hard way that teachers and doctors do not always have the right answer.
We have learned, finally, that people are fragile, corruptible, and can look you in the eye and lie to you. If you don’t believe this, you’ve bought the “party line”.
It’s a fact. We are all—yes, every one—guilty. We lie to ourselves, we exaggerate, we ignore painful truths, we are open to being fooled, or to fooling others. We are imperfect.
It may be a sad state of affairs for the world, but it makes the creation of your characters a bit easier.
See, even those who ARE the best of us, hide bits of darkness behind a broad smile or a brave stance. They hide their fears and insecurities, but the best of us go in despite these flaws, while the rest of us hold back… and hold our breath. Will our heroes make it? Will they fail? Oh, and by the way, are you and I rooting for a win or a failure? If they win, are they not that much better than us? If they lose can we not hide our smug smiles and feel a bit better about ourselves?
If you say you never lie to yourself, you are lying to yourself. Get it?
A lot to think about, eh? Well, add this to the list:
Those are the quirks and traits that make us each human. Only a character from one of Robert A. Heinlein‘s later books, or those people on the old Chinese Communist posters, in a wide stance, looking forward, fists clenched on hips, eyes up and bright and looking to the future, with their chests out and their shoulders back can be thought of as perfect. And they don’t exist. They never did.
Your hero doesn’t need to be riddled with fault to appear human, but a moment of fear before pushing on is good. The idea that the partner, the romantic interest, the family member might be working behind the scenes against him… is all good.
People make mistakes. Superman lies about his identity and he can’t see through lead.
No matter how we want our government to be trustworthy, or our clergy to be holy… no matter how much we want our pharmacist to be right all the time, or our legal system to see through the morass every time, and judge truly, we, our society, and our world is flawed. Hell, even outer space isn’t really a vacuum.
It is the imperfections that tie your reader to your characters. As much as we want a perfect hero, in the backs of our minds we won’t believe it.