Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 1, 2024

Ways to Know Your Characters, Part 3- Flaws

by Ellen Buikema

In the real world we want to get rid of flaws. But to writers, flaws can be precious jewels, reflecting light on the storyline and all the other characters within.

A flaw for one character may be seen as a strength for another. Greed and dishonesty may be strengths to antagonists, but thought of as flaws to the protagonists in the story.

Why are character flaws desirable?


In a perfect world nothing will go wrong. What fun it that? Flawless characters are boring.

The way characters act, think, and speak weaves into the plot. Character flaws increase the odds that things will go wrong, sometimes horribly wrong, powering up conflicts. Flaws also help to differentiate between characters.


Readers like to see a version of the familiar in characters. Recognize the struggles, see the mistakes made and how the characters deal with the drama.

When a character is overly agreeable and never unreasonable or cranky, they are hard to connect with, to feel for their problems and joy for their successes.

A character’s lack of imperfections makes them unlikeable. Flaws are key to crafting meaningful conflict for our stories.

Keep characters memorable. The hero may be kind, have a great sense of humor, but also have narcolepsy and sing in their sleep. Mixed traits mold the character’s definition. No one will forget the character that breaks into song while snoozing.


Our world is rich in interesting people with diverse, and often troubled backgrounds. Fictional people must be interesting too. Life is messy and the journey filled with speedbumps in the forms of conflict and indecision. A good story will reflect all that.

Creating Character Flaws

In fiction, a flaw isn’t always a negative character trait. It can also be a false belief, quirk, fear, or limitation, that is part of the character. A character flaw might be an annoyance or be damaging, to the character who possesses it or to those they encounter.

Any flaw a character possesses can be categorized as minor, major, or tragic. Let’s look at three types of flaws.

Minor Flaw

This is a flaw that sets apart a character in readers’ minds but doesn’t impact the story in a major way. Examples of a minor flaw include:

  • Excessive knuckle-cracking. One of many behaviors for nervousness.
  • A disability that requires the character to use a cane. The cane can be a handy weapon as well as a mobility device.
  • A bilingual character’s tendency to misuse words in their non-native tongue. One example is “chicken” for “kitchen.” I remember saying “cochinita” piglet instead of “cocinita” kitchenette causing my Spanish teacher to giggle.
  • Wide-eyed innocence. This can work well as comedic relief. For instance, the Dill character in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Character flaws don’t have to be moral ones.

Major Flaw

This flaw impacts the character such that it affects the plot of the story. For example:

  • An addiction that gets a character in trouble with the mob.
  • Fear of intimacy that keeps a character walled away from love.
  • Stubbornness that keeps a character from accepting help.
  • Putting others first to the point of repeatedly nearly getting killed. Such as Katniss Everdeen in Susan Collins’ The Hunger Games.

Major flaws often represent moral failings, that may cause external, internal, or secondary conflicts that affect the plot.

Tragic Flaw

The tragic flaw that leads to a character’s downfall. Examples of a tragic flaw include:

  • Sense of duty that leads a character to needlessly sacrifice themselves.
  • Need for revenge that leads a character down a rampaging path toward destruction.
  • Overly trusting nature that sends a character into ruin.
  • The main antagonist of the Harry Potter series, Voldemort, has a tragic flaw—fear of death—that leads to his demise.

Tragic flaws are usually moral failings or idiotic tendencies that tie straight into a story’s main conflict. By the story’s climax, a character’s tragic flaw often results in a bad end.

Here are two useful lists of flaws to consider 101 Character Flaws and 70 Interesting Character Flaws for future works.

Consider the character’s journeys

To develop powerful flaws for your story’s characters, consider their journeys. Think about where your characters’ stories start and where you want them to end. Then create a flaw that will fuel the major internal and/or external conflicts they’ll experience. For example:

  • Your character must defeat an evil wizard that forever dwells underground. Their flaw might be an overwhelming fear of enclosed spaces.
  • You want your character to find true happiness. Their flaw might be the false belief that they’re unworthy of love.
  • Your character must solve the murder mystery. Their flaw might be that they are insufferable, which keeps other characters from sharing information helpful for the case.

Final Thoughts

When writing your story, consider the different viewpoints. What does each character think their strengths and weaknesses are? Does this influence how they treat others, and in what ways? How do their flaws influence choices they make?

Discovering flaws is a fantastic way to learn more about your characters, assist with the plot, and give you a better sense of your story and where it’s going.

Flaws make your characters relatable and interesting to the readers. Give all your main characters flaws and let the story flow from there.

What character flaws do you find most interesting in the books you’ve written or read? Do you think characters should have combinations of flaws, like major and minor, or minor and tragic? Have you felt empathy for a character with a tragic flaw?

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About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents, and The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon chapter book series with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works in Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and The Crystal Key, MG Magical Realism/ Sci-Fi, a glaze of time travel.

Find her at https://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

Top Image by syaifulptak57 from Pixabay

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10 comments on “Ways to Know Your Characters, Part 3- Flaws”

  1. A useful post. My protagonist in my fantasy series has a quick temper, but it soon does down. He had a difficult childhood, culminating in him being part of a street gang, and committing a variety of crimes, including the death of another person. As a result, when he falls in love with a priestess of the goddess of life and healing, he hides his feelings because he feels his past makes him unworthy of her.

    1. Hi Kris,

      That's interesting. Some people parse the tragic flaw to fatal flaw. To me, they are one in the same. Although, I suppose tragic may not be fatal.

      Now I'm being overly analytical. LOL

  2. We need to stop using disabilities and mobility aids/assistive devices and calling them flaws. That is ableist--it's part of the definition of ableism.

    I understand you have good intentions, but it's not acceptable.

  3. Thank you so much for your 'Character' series. I'm late to the party but happy I finally arrived. I think flaws - we all have them - are absolutely critical to consider in character development. I looks at human behavior intuitively, though have studied it academically. Your article helps corral some of the intuitions I have, which greatly helps me as a new-to-fiction writer. Thank you for presenting the essentials.

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