Learning Your Character’s Greatest Strength and Weakness

I’m taking a Writing the Other class on “Deep Dive into Diverse Characters,” which asks us to do several short writing exercises each week among other things. We were tasked with reading Stant Litore’s book Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget , and with following his guidelines to define our character’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. I had no idea how to do this, as with Greatest Desire and Greatest Fear , so as usual I did some research.


(A-Z challenge logo, letter L)

The primary thing I tried to keep in my head while doing this research was Litore’s statement that a character’s greatest strength and weakness are more interesting if they are the flip side of the same coin. This was difficult for me to see at first, even with his examples, but I found more examples as I read other sources.

My search found two categories of article: those about writing characters, and those about job interviews. The character-writing sites were the most helpful. Jordan McCollum defines a strength as what makes a character indomitable, unwilling to give up. Monica M. Clark reports a talk from Robin Perini where he says that a flaw, a “belief, need, or fear that shapes a character,” can be a character’s greatest strength; I confess to not having completely understood the claim. He also said you should exploit a character’s flaw by putting them in a situation where they must face it.

Three different sites listed 24 qualities in 6 categories:

  • wisdom: acquisition and use of knowledge; cognitive: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective
  • courage in face of opposition: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality
  • humanity: interpersonal, caring for others: love, kindness, social intelligence
  • justice: civic/community: citizenship, fairness, leadership
  • moderation/temperance, avoiding excess: forgiveness/mercy, humility/modesty, prudence, self-regulation
  • transcendence, connection with the universe: appreciation of beauty/excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality

The third site also listed two ways of finding a weakness from a strength: use the opposite of the strength as something for the character to overcome, or exaggerate a strength into an obsession. Another site concurred with taking a strength to an extreme, adding that if you explore why the character has a strength, you might find that it hides a weakness.

The job-interview articles were occasionally helpful: an article claiming to list 92 strengths (actually 79 when you sort and eliminate duplicates)gave a lot of 1-word or short-phrase possibilities, but it was hard to see how to turn many of them into weaknesses (not that it’s impossible, but I’m stuck on seeing a downside to ‘clear-headed’ at the moment). The same article did give a helpful shorter set of strength/weakness pairs:

  • If a character adapts easily to new situations, they might in the extreme become fickle
  • If they endure hardships, they might turn themselves into unnecessary martyrs
  • Steadfastness might become inflexibility
  • Dependability might lead to predictability, which is a weakness if someone exploits it.
  • A character who sees themselves as efficient might cut corners if things become difficult.

It also listed several questions about finding your own greatest strength, which you might be able to apply to your characters, though it’s job-strength in the sense of things you’re good at doing instead of strength of character:

  • What did you do in childhood that you still do, but better? Something you’ve done for a long time, and have improved at, is likely to be a strength.
  • What kind of activity gives you energy instead of draining it?
  • What kind of activity feels natural to you? What sort of thing makes you feel like you’re “really you” in the moment?
  • What is easy for you that isn’t easy for others?
  • Where do you repeatedly focus your attention?
  • What sort of thing do you learn easily?
  • What things never get onto your to-do list, because you never have trouble remembering them?

Some of the writing-related sites were helpful but only in a small way; one listed 123 character flaws , but they didn’t seem to me to be weaknesses in the sense the other writing articles meant. A psychology site listed many personal strengths.

I think I understand the task more clearly now, but I still have to think hard about my main character’s strengths and weaknesses. I have a great deal of plot written or planned, and fear that when I really dig into the character I’ve created, I’ll find inconsistencies that require throwing out parts of what I’ve had her doing in previous drafts.

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