Character flaws in fiction

Having started poking around the subject of flaws yesterday, I thought it worth exploring in further detail. From a writing perspective, character flaws are very important (Druid perspective tomorrow!) Real people are flawed, after all. Perfect people are dull, and predictable, so once you get beyond very simple children’s stories, flaws become very important in character creation.

A rounded character needs weak points, failings, blind spots, and things they are rubbish at. These open the way for narrative, as through them, events unfold that the character cannot quickly or easily deal with. Failings actually make a character more endearing, I’ve found. People who are too nice, too good, too kind, too reasonable can actually be hard to empathise with. They might be the sort of people we ought to like, but they aren’t quite human and are a lot harder to engage with.

So, how do you go about putting flaws into a character? You might need to consider it in light of the needs of the plot. The character may need to be blind, or agoraphobic, or clumsy for the story to work. You might grow the flaws out of their personal history – in the form of fears and anxieties, beliefs about themselves or the world, old problems that haunt them, and so forth. You might want to give your character a physical disadvantage of some sort – from injury, illness or birth. You might consider a mental disability. Then there are personality traits – anger, jealousy, paranoia, depression, and so forth. Obsessions compulsions and phobias can flaw a character in some very interesting ways, giving you all kinds of scope to play with them creatively. You could make them a bit lazy, bad at handling money, gullible. A combination of flaws can make for a very convincing person.

Of course, if you make a character too flawed, they become unsympathetic or hard to engage with. A selfish, lazy, clumsy heroine who swears compulsively and hates cats and children may be hard to engage readers with. She might however, make a very good problem ex-girlfriend to have complicating the main plot. Getting the balance right with enough flaws to make a character plausible and likable, is not entirely easy.

2 thoughts on “Character flaws in fiction”

  1. Great post. I don’t like perfect characters because it’s so unbelievable. I usually give some kind of personality flaw to my characters like a bad temper, jealousy or pride. That seems human to me and sometimes I like to give these ‘human’ flaws to gods/goddesses kind of how the Greeks viewed their gods.

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