It’s a Wonderful Life is my husband’s favorite Christmas movie and we often watch it on Christmas Eve. But my daughters and I have talked about George’s temper—it bothered them as children and it bothers them now. There’s something about people venting anger, and in this case the prospect of male violence, that shakes them up.
It shakes me up too. As a family we aren’t yellers. But of course we have our own struggles as all people in all families do. And I’ve been thinking about we handle our human flaws and how we utilize human flaws in service to our storytelling.
Perfect characters aren’t too interesting—most writers would agree with that. But we don’t need to look to a list of major sins to find fodder for what might challenge our characters in their quest to be “good people.”
We need only look to ourselves. Maybe we don’t scare people with our anger but maybe sometimes we elevate our understanding of the world in a way that causes people around us to see us as a know-it-all. Or maybe our assertiveness can, at times, come off as a bossy disregard for the experiences of our loved ones. We’ve all got our struggles.
We’re more likely to come up with something more nuanced and complex and interesting if we look to the kinds of flaws that plague most folks and not just the go-to bigger transgressions like wonton cruelty, infidelity, criminality, and the like.
George Bailey’s failings are part of the point of the story. He’s not indifferent to the way he treats others, in fact, he cares deeply about being a person of integrity. He’s fortunate to receive forgiveness from those who love him (I wouldn’t be as tolerant as that Mary), but the implication is that he’s changed for the better in the end.
If you’re working on your character’s “internal story arc”, or just looking for an interesting angle on that important side character, you need look no further than your own family, community, or your own imperfect struggling self.