Writing Strengths and Weaknesses: The Art of Double-Edged Swords

Sometimes, we build our characters up in our heads. We get so enamored with them, with all their beauty and powers, that maybe they get a little overpowered.

Which might make for a too-easy victory.

I tend to do the opposite, falling for their weaknesses, the things that make them human and relatable, and breaking them down maybe a little too much.

But luckily, this little trick cuts both ways.

A character’s strength can also be their weakness, and vice versa.

It all comes down to the situation, how they perceive themselves, and their ability to harness (or combat) aspects of their personality.

Personalities and psyches are strange, complicated things, and life is no simple matter. A person with a generous spirit may give too much and wear themselves out. A person who tends toward extreme caution may save the life of a friend by warning them of dangers otherwise unthought of by a normal person.

So, if you’re struggling to flesh out your character, take the big defining features of their personality, and look at those things in different lights. Twist them up and drop them into new circumstances.

In case it sounds like I’m talking in circles (because making strengths into weaknesses and weaknesses into strengths can kinda become a circle), here are a couple examples.

In A Heart of Salt & Silver, I played with this a lot. So much so that it made it into the title. Salt and silver are the things that can kill demons/demi-demons (Ness) and silver kills werewolves (Nolan) thus, a heart made of those things is just saying that they’re their own worst enemies. Which… they definitely are.

Nolan is a werewolf, a veteran of several wars, and an former slave. Now, he goes out of his way to help others, to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

Sounds like a pretty solid strength, right?

What could go wrong?

Maybe running out in the middle of a meal with the woman you love to go galivanting into gods know what sort of conflict isn’t the best thing, but it fits with that “strength,” that hero complex. She’ll understand, right?

Unless she has virtually no self-worth to begin with and that desertion ritual happens over and over… and over… and over.

It becomes a weakness pretty quickly in that light, breaking a relationship into pieces.

As for Ness and her complete lack of self-worth… She sees herself as less than human. She’s half demon, so she’s not quite human, but she isn’t less than anything. She’s actually insanely powerful. But she thinks herself some beast that doesn’t deserve to exist.

She doesn’t think anyone could ever want her around or ever find value for her.

Pretty obvious weakness, right?

It certainly is in most circumstances, and it definitely played a role in splitting up her relationship with Nolan.

But it means that she considers her actions from perspectives other than her own, considering what others want or need and tempering the violent emotions that can so easily overthrow the fragile self-control of demons and demi-demons.

Which makes it a twisted kind of strength.

The way she copes with that weakness makes her a better person to be around.

So, when writing your characters, don’t forget that their defining traits can be used for and against them, depending on the situation.


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