How Paradoxes Deepen Character

Spatial paradox
Complexity is an indispensable ingredient of life, and so it ought to be with the characters we create in our stories.

Why Paradoxes are Good

Linda Seger, in her book, Creating Unforgettable Characters, wrote:

“Paradoxes do not negate the consistencies, they simply add to them. Characters are more interesting if they are made up of mixed stuff, if they have warring elements. To create warring elements, you begin by establishing one and asking ‘Given this element, what other elements might there be in the same person that would date conflict?'”

In the film Erin Brockovich, for example, Erin’s paradoxes include her desire to succeed professionally, juxtaposed against her need to take care of her children.

Her trailer-trash sexuality versus her ability and commitment to fight a huge corporation.

Her foul language and aggression juxtaposed against her desire to assist people find their way through the complex legal system.

In The Matrix, Neo is a hacker and merchant who is wanted by the law, yet, he is the one chosen to save humanity.

If we think hard enough about the people we know we will find some fine examples of paradoxes drawn from real life. It’s part of the fabric of character—the bible-puncher who is involved with a prostitute, the club bouncer who is putty in his girlfriend’s hands, or the sweet old man with a foul mouth when it comes to dealing with the payment of bills.

Introducing paradoxes, or warring elements, into your characters will inject verisimilitude and interest in the stories you tell.


Character paradoxes are an important part of creating vibrant, interesting, and authentic characters and ought to be used at every opportunity.


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Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

6 thoughts on “How Paradoxes Deepen Character”

  1. i always find flaws as a by-product to design, like writing and the horrible errors of theories and grammar that come about, from those small dialect changes to those well known conundrums we conjure with pace. this is like telling someone the sky is blue but most if-not-all forget this or something they crave in their story they yearn to tell. this is wonderful, and even greater that it comes so clearly rather than wave of mental head-scratching confusion. especially in the draft stages.

    1. Yep. It’s very interesting how an intentional flaw may increase the verisimilitude and authenticity of a work—whatever the medium.

  2. Whenever I create a novel or story, I always go back and add in paradoxes and inconsistencies. I find that a consistent character is a flat, stagnate creature deserving to be taken out back and shot. It’s hardly fit for a complex, human (approximating) protagonist to be perfectly consistent. Paradox gives insight into a complicated mind and allows the reader to gain new meaning from their own interpretation. Because in the absence of regularity, they’re forced to come up with their own meaning. Great post.

    Peter Licari

    1. Agreed. Life is full of those, isnt it? It makes sense that we include them in the stories we tell.

  3. Thanks for the comment Reese. Agreed. Paradoxes are a good way to bring out inner conflict in your characters.

  4. Excellent post, Stavros. I love flawed, paradoxical characters. We often find this in real life–the big strong bully who is terrified of spiders. Creating such inner conflicts makes for more interesting characters. Thank you for sharing tips on how to do this.

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