The importance of character flaws

No one wants to read about perfect characters that always smile, act polite and eat their vegetables. No one is perfect and readers don’t expect your characters to be perfect. In other words, everyone has flaws and so should your characters.

As humans, we are short tempered. We overeat when we are nervous. We leave our dirty clothes on the floor. We envy others. We are afraid of heights or the dark. There is no limit to the negative aspects of human behavior. People are greedy, selfish, arrogant, pessimistic, uneducated, abusive…the list can go on and on.

Simply put a character flaw is an imperfection, phobia or deficiency in your character. These flaws can affect your character’s actions and abilities. But this goes beyond just bad habits such as leaving dirty clothes on the floor or chewing with your mouth open. I am talking about the flaws in our character that are ingrained in our very being. These are the flaws that stay with us for our whole lives such a violent temper.

Since these flaws are deeply ingrained, don’t expect your character to overcome them. It is better to have them stay true to themselves. Does this mean they can’t overcome their flaws? No, it means you need a compelling reason for the change, just as there was a compelling reason for the original trait.

Now when creating your character, don’t just concentrate on developing a whole bunch of quirks – those minor flaws that don’t impact your story. Quirks, such as cracking your knuckles, a scar or a thick accent, can be good for differentiating your characters from other characters, but they won’t affect how the story is played out.

You want to focus on flaws that will affect how the character meets his needs. The opponent should “attack” the hero’s weakness, bringing out character flaws in the hero. That is the kind of tension you want for your character. You want your readers to wonder whether his flaws will outshine his virtues this time. You want the reader to wonder if this is the day your character’s flaws actually destroy him.

You don’t need to give your character a tortured past or give him a physical problem. You just need to make him human. Remember the best obstacles are those that are created by the character themselves and these start with character flaws.

7 thoughts on “The importance of character flaws

  1. Great post. Flaws in a protagonist are vital but also redeeming features in a antagonist need to be thought through. I had to find a redeeming feature for a villain in my novel The Twesome Loop. He was nasty…but no one can be completely evil. It took me longer to find this than flaws in my main character!

  2. KC says:

    I always flaw my character in some way. If I want them to be believable as people they can’t be perfect. Great post!

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