by Ellen Buikema
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.
Weakness + Struggle = Growth.
Flaws—minor, major, and fatal— make memorable and captivating characters.
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.”
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.
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.
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:
Sometimes flaws aren’t negative as they serve to cause a roadblock for the character, leading to character growth.
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:
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.
In a fatal flaw, the character possesses some trait that brings a person to their downfall and eventual death. Here are some examples:
In Moby-Dick, Captain Ahab is fanatical obsession with killing the whale causes him to be reckless.
The protagonist suffers from excessive pride, in Macbeth, and murders the king. He then becomes paranoid, which causes him to order the killing of more characters.
Captain Hook is obsessed with Peter, in Peter Pan.
Ned Stark, in A Song of Ice and Fire, has a fatal flaw that is a positive character trait: he assumes that others share his sense of honor. This mistaken belief leads to his demise.
If you’re pondering a character, here’s a fun character generator you might enjoy playing with for a bit of inspiration.
Using this list can help you find flaws to build your character.
Make the flaw seem reasonable to your character. Bad guys often don’t see themselves as bad guys. Antagonists’ flaws (greed, dishonesty) may seem like strengths (ambition, cunning) to them.
Do you find that you gravitate toward particular flaws in your characters? Do you have a preference for lovable flaws or maddening ones? What are your favorite character flaws?
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, YA paranormal fantasy.
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