Subtle Character Flaws

Question: I want my main character to sort of be partially faking an air of always knowing what to do and putting up a smile despite the fact that his life is really starting to go down the gutter.

I do want him to be genuinely confident and calm in the face of panic but I sort of want it to start out with a few cracks. However, I don't want him to be so much emotionally unstable underneath, rather I want to portray it as a kind of nagging discomfort with his stagnant approach to dealing with the "cracks". The problem I keep running into is that I want to keep it subtle and some what hidden from both him as well as other characters. I can't seem to find a way to portray that genuinely without making it seem like it was an open wound rather than a half healed one.

Answer: For most emerging writers, the real problem is being too subtle rather than not subtle enough. You want to make sure you've illustrated how hard it is for your character to maintain his facade.

It should be fairly easy to create an event that shows how he acts confident, even while letting the reader see that his inner thoughts and feelings are at odds with his veneer.

Of course, that should be a set-up for the next big event, which will challenge that veneer.

If you've ever seen the film Casablanca - and if you haven't, you should - you may recall how the main character, Rick, is shown in the opening as totally in control. For instance, he won't drink alcohol with his guests. A friend is killed by police in his bar, and he stays aloof and calmly resets the chess board afterward. But then, the woman who jilted him turns up in the bar and he totally loses his cool and goes on a bender, revealing what that veneer was covering up and why he worked so hard to distance himself from people.

Even though, in a novel, you have the advantage of being able to show the character's thoughts, it can be more effective to create external events that challenge him and reveal what's happening inside him.

Above all, make sure reader appreciates just how much of an effort it takes for him to appear confident and the depth of emotion that is being covered up.

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