We know it’s true. And yet so many writers try to deny it. But I believe that the best and most complex characters all have a crutch of some sort.
And crutches get such a bad rap.
As a physical therapist, I know how important real crutches are to people who literally cannot stand on their own two feet. Crutches get them past a painful period when they need something to lean on.
Characters are no different. They all have crutches.
Whether it be alcohol, sex, bitterness, holding grudges, revenge, food, cruelty, unhealthy relationships, and, yes, even exercise. All characters have one thing in common…
None of them are strong enough to survive on their own. Even characters who are physically alone in the story need something to keep them going.
I’ll use some famous examples from my favorite works:
Anne Shirley from “Anne of Green Gables” – Most especially seen in the first book or two, Anne holds onto the fact that she is an orphan, and keeps grudges for a LONG time. Those grudges and her need to fall back on the orphan plot keeps her engaged in the story and gives her something that keeps her moving forward. She also has a fierce imagination which, while rich and verdant, can also be her downfall. When she can’t handle a situation, she resorts to fantastical ideas of resolution. These crutches make her a well-rounded and likable character.
Celaena Sardothien from “Throne of Glass” – Celaena is motivated by hoping to achieve her own freedom. Which, given what she’s lived through, is definitely a goal. But she falls back on her hatred of the king and her sharp temper as a crutch. She uses them to propel her lofty, and often insanely gutsy, goals towards fruition. She also leans on Chaol and Dorian, despite the fact that she claims to be self-sufficient and doesn’t need anybody. And you know what? That’s okay! We all need something to get us past dark times and difficult situations. As long as they don’t encumber our growth as a character.
The Big Friendly Giant from “The BFG” – This character is so adorably quaint and down-to-earth, it’s almost ludicrous to think he has a crutch. But he does. His fear of the other giants, and his nightly excursions to capture dreams are his crutches. He uses them as a means to make excuses for why he doesn’t take more of a stand… until little Sophie comes into his life.
I like each one of these characters for different reasons. Do I think they’re weak because they have a crutch or two? No. Not at all. Broken and imperfect characters give us an ability to relate to them. And when we see them rise from the ashes of their crutch and their dangerous or unhealthy mannerisms, we celebrate their victory all the more–because they’ve worked hard to prove themselves and strengthen their own resolve.
I’m sure if you thought about it, you’d realize all the best characters have them. And they make the story more compelling and add layers of richness and complexity to the narrative.
What do you think? Any famous crutches from your favorite characters?
“Being vulgar to be funny is a crutch, and I prefer wheelchairs.”
― Jarod Kintz,