Three Thoughts on Character Flaws

Yesterday, my awesome critique group and I were talking about the importance of character flaws and it sparked this post. I’m going to stop myself from going on a lengthy rant about how character flaws are utterly crucial to crafting complex, believable, and ultimately relatable characters and instead point out three questions that I think are essential when creating flaws in characters.

  • How do a character’s flaws impact the plot? 

Plot relevancy is the biggest issue here. A character’s flaws should cause conflict and tension in the plot. Maybe they are responsible for a bad decision that really screws things up for the protagonist. Maybe they take things into unexpected directions. Maybe they prevent the character from finding other solutions to conflicts. They might even raise stakes. The bottom line is a character’s flaws have to matter in the grand scheme of things. A purely cosmetic flaw that is otherwise of no consequence reeks of fabrication or of gimmickry and won’t cut it here.

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  • How do a character’s flaws impact their relationship to other characters?

This is probably my personal favorite bit, since I’m all about character relationships in my writing, but this is where flaws really bring a character to life for me. A completely wholesome, utterly flawless character just kills any additional tension between character and let’s face it, no one want to read dialogue that goes like this:

Supporting Character: Oh, shiny Protagonist! Not only are you extremely shiny and beautiful, you also are super smart and perfect in every way!

Protagonist: Yeah, I know.

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Nooooo. Don’t do that. Unless you’re talking about Captain Hammer, who, by the way, has plenty of flaws as a character, including not exactly an overabundance of brains. Sadly Billy and his posse of Evil League of Evil-aspiring bad guys seemed to be the only ones in on this until too late. But hey, complex flaw!

  • How do a character’s flaws make them more relatable to the audience?  

Let’s face it, who of us doesn’t love the most flawed character in whatever we read or watch? Let’s take everyone’s favorite Marvel villain Loki. Other than being a pathological trickster (Trickster God, duh!), he’s got all kinds of parental and brother issues. He’s arrogant, has airs of grandeur and yeah, evil. But despite all of his plans of world domination, he’s got that undeniably soft spot for his brother and the urge to belong. All of them traits an audience can’t help but empathize with. Oh, yeah, and he’s hot and inspires all kinds of fanfic. But still! Relatable! It’s what makes him such a great, complex villain.

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There’s probably more. There are certainly more .gifs to illustrate my point, but in the end it comes down to this for me when I’m figuring out complex, believably flawed characters: Flaws have to matter to the plot, the characters, and the readers.

That, and let’s face it, they are what make characters a whole lot more fun.

On that note, happy writing!