Here's another case where something I noticed as a reader has carried over to my writing. Flawed characters are a good thing. Perfect characters are boring, not to mention severely unrealistic. If characters are perfect and always do the right thing, there's no interest and frequently no story.
Like everything else, though, flawed characters can go to an extreme that doesn't work any better. A student of mine (now graduated) probably shouldn't ever get an e-reader, because judging by our conversations, I think she may tend toward throwing books across the room. Or at least slamming them down on a desk.
The reason? Idiotic protagonists.
This is particularly prevalent in certain YA novels (or at least, that's where I notice it, since it's the world I know). Teenagers are in a stage of life that's naturally more self-centered, and maybe that leads to the idea of making dumb decisions.
Okay, we all make bad decisions. That's normal. But a character's bad decision should be something that a real person would really do under those circumstances. More particularly, the bad decision should be consistent with what's known about the character ... not just something that's convenient for the plot. (Hmm, I think that goes back to my post on front-end/back-end motivation, too.)
Here's the thing. I've only known one teen in my whole life (including when I was a teen) who seemed to be 100% self-interested in their actions. And in that case, a personality disorder was likely. I also have a hard time thinking of any teens who act outright stupid in the way some novel characters do.
A cohort of the super-self-interested character is the one with false selflessness. The one who supposedly does what she does because she loves the boy, or wants to keep her friends safe. But when you look at it, the actions don't match the supposed motivation. The character is just being stupid ... because it's convenient.
So where's the line and the balance? How do we instill our characters with realistic, interesting flaws (and appropriately get them in trouble) without our teen readers thinking we're insulting the intelligence of their species?