Posted by on February 16, 2017

Showing An Ancestor Warts and All

Many of us put our ancestors on a pedestal. We forget they were human beings and like all human beings they had flaws.  It’s important in writing our family history stories to do our best to show to our readers our ancestors as a whole person, showing both their strengths and weaknesses.

Flaws show our ancestor’s vulnerabilities. It helps to make them likeable so that we can identify with them. We don’t want to make our readers hate them but make them more sympathetic because they are like us.

There are generally four kinds of flaws that are used in fiction. I think it is beneficial to look at them and see how we can find these flaws in our ancestor’s story.

Major Flaws

Major flaws are usually painful events that our ancestor experienced that reshaped how they view their world. Maybe it is a parent leaving, or growing up in poverty, or experiencing the death of a child.

Minor Flaws

Minor flaws are unattractive traits that show during stressful times. These traits might complicate a situation, or impair our ancestor’s judgement.

Fatal Flaws

Fatal flaws keep our ancestor from being happy, they stand in the way of their own path. Usually this flaw prevents them from growing and moving forward, but hopefully, they eventually overcome this flaw during your story.

Tragic Flaws

Tragic flaws are those flaws that your ancestor can’t overcome the weakness.  Your ancestor cannot move past it, and fear defeats your ancestor. By the end of your story, your ancestor is unchanged and stuck.  This doesn’t always make for the best stories as we want happy endings. But let’s face it not all our ancestors had a happy ending. This is a tragedy and maybe the case for the antagonist ancestor in your story.

Tips to Show Flaws and Maintain Reader Sympathy

When we show our ancestor’s flaws, it’s important to remember to show a few things to help your reader to remain sympathetic to your ancestor.

  1. Show the reason behind the flaw. Most flaws are a result of a past event or experience that has left a scar.
  1. Villains don’t think of themselves as villains. They imagine they are doing the right thing. But their flaws within the context of the time. How does the flaw make sense to the character? By showing this to your reader, the ancestor appears more sympathetic even when the reasoning behind the flaw is misguided.
  1. Sometimes flaws can be both a strength and For example, initiative can be an asset in getting things done, but it can rub other people the wrong way if you move too quickly.
  1. Show your ancestor’s mistakes. We all make mistakes, don’t be afraid to show your ancestor’s mistakes to allow your reader to be sympathetic.
  1. Trust your ancestor. We don’t hate our friend and family because of their flaws. Trust that your readers will also love their ancestor warts and all.

Your ancestor’s flaws are something you should think out ahead of time and make them an important part of your story.