I understand the desire to make your characters have a perfect grasp on and response to everything that is happening around them. It can be SUPER tempting to make them more capable of dealing with everything than we believe we are ourselves. (Even though lots of the time, we are all more capable than we think we are!)
But here’s the thing. It’s important for readers to be able to connect emotionally to the people you’re writing about. I’m not saying that means you have to make them the WORST for that to be possible or you have to make them the BEST for that to be possible. But you DO have to make them as well-rounded and three-dimensional as possible and no one on this earth is flaw-free, no one is perfect, no one has their shit together all the time. Sometimes our initial emotional responses are the opposite of what they ‘should’ be. Sometimes we’re selfish and short-sighted. Sometimes we know the right things to say and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we hurt people accidentally. Sometimes we do it on purpose. And sometimes those are the things that make a character memorable and those are the things that make them resonate the most.
Take a look at some of your favorite characters and you might find yourself connecting most with their ‘flaws.’ I mean, just off the top of my head. for me—
I love Taylor from Melina Marchetta’s JELLICOE ROAD because she’s so sharp-edged and most of the time she filters her responses through the emotional pain she’s going through. Her responses weren’t perfect, sometimes selfish, but I’m not perfect and I can be selfish too. It also emphasized how much she was hurting. If she had been able to respond ‘perfectly’ to all things going on around her, I would have never been sold on her pain.
I love Theo from brandycolbert's POINTE because she struggles with asking for help and insists on working through SO MUCH on her own. That's not a technically 'perfect' response but that's her emotional arc—getting to a point where she can reach out. It's POWERFUL. So incredibly powerful because her initial response? Is not 'perfect' (whatever that means!).
And let’s look at HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF PHOENIX by JK Rowling. It was so divisive when it came out because Harry didn’t have the perfect response to his grief and the pressure he was facing in the impending war. But I think that is what made it great, you know? I don’t think I could’ve stuck with Harry much if he hadn’t been allowed to be ‘real.’
These characters are among my favourites because of their ‘imperfect’ responses. They are not even IMPERFECT, really. They’re HUMAN. Think less in terms of perfect and imperfect, and start thinking in terms of human.
The main thing is, you want to give your stories the chance TO emotionally resonate and reach people and so much of this hinges on the characters. So start challenging yourself more when it comes to this particular aspect of your writing. It might not make you comfortable initially, but it might take your work to a new level you didn’t even realize you were denying it. And isn’t that worth a shot?
I hope this helps!
(Referenced: getting too attached to your characters to the detriment of your work.)