Writing Memorable Character Flaws

From Writers in the Storm

A character flaw is an undesirable trait that negatively affects the writer’s character. The degree of this effect will depend on the type and magnitude of the defect. Fortunately, the struggles caused by these imperfections often forge great strength of character.

Life is messy.

A perfect character has nothing to learn. The reader will find this person boring and unrelatable.

Weakness + Struggle = Growth.

Flaws—minor, major, and fatal— make memorable and captivating characters.

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Three Character Flaw Categories

1. Physical

Cultural ideals determine beauty in a society, so let’s say, that in this case, flaws are deviations from the culture’s norm.

Beauty itself can be considered a flaw. In this study, beautiful women who wear makeup are deemed aggressive.

Any character can be assigned “flaws.”

2. Emotional or Personality

Shyness may seem like sensitivity. In reality this trait may be due to a lack of self-love.

Neediness may appear as emotional openness and end up causing co-dependence.

Need for control might look like discipline but can be punishing.

3. Ideological

A character’s ideology is the set of beliefs and values important to the character. These principles can be a flaw as well as a source of attraction.

Characters might find each other’s ideologies fodder for jokes, at least initially. But the reality of these views can easily create conflict.

Character Flaw Types

Minor Character Flaws

A minor character flaw has minimal impact on a character’s life. Some may be lovable, others maddening. Minor imperfections can move the plot along.

These flaws distinguish your characters, making them memorable. They don’t impact the story but can affect dialogue or reactions to scenes. Examples are as follows:

  1. Being perpetually late.
  2. Poor decision-making skills
  3. Gossiping.
  4. Lazy and unwilling to do things.
  5. Spoiled.
  6. Spacey.
  7. Preoccupation with one’s physical features.
  8. Poor hygiene.
  9. Naive.
  10. Clumsy.

Examples in novels

  • Clumsy – uncoordinated and fumbling; often accident-prone. Example: Bella Swan in Twilight.
  • Naive – easily fooled or persuaded to believe something. Example: Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land.
  • Spacey – having one’s head in the clouds; absent-minded. Example: Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter.
  • Spoiled – bratty and self-centered as a result of overindulgence. Example: Mary Lennox (at first) in The Secret Garden.

Sometimes flaws aren’t negative as they serve to cause a roadblock for the character, leading to character growth.

Major Character Flaws

A significant character flaw can damage the character and the people within their reach in a physical, mental, or moral manner. These character flaws can drastically impact a character’s life and the lives of those around them. Here are some examples:

  1. Addiction – drugs, gambling, smoking, sex, serial killer.
  2. Recklessness.
  3. Possessive.
  4. Deceptive.
  5. Short-tempered.
  6. Greedy.
  7. Narcissistic.
  8. Revengeful.
  9. Weak-willed.
  10. Inconsiderate.

Examples in novels

Short-tempered – quick to anger. Example: Jack Torrance in The Shining.

Possessive – overprotective and controlling. Example: Edward Cullen in Twilight.

Weak-willed – timid and spineless. Example: Peter Pettigrew in Harry Potter.

Inconsiderate – caring little for the feelings of others. Example: Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm