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How Character Flaws Can Help You Write More Interesting Characters | Literature & Latte

We are all flawed; find out why you should include flaws in characters to make your fiction more interesting.

Look around you; you don't know anyone who is without flaws. A world filled with flawless, perfect people would be boring and predictable. With this in mind, for fictional characters to be realistic they must be flawed. Yet some people are more flawed than others; in some cases, they may have minor flaws that make their characters endearing and memorable. Meanwhile, heroes and protagonists may be required to overcome more major character flaws to succeed in their quests. At the far end of the scale, characters may have fatal flaws that lead them to their downfall. To show you how this works, here are some examples of types of character flaws that you can use in your fiction to create believable characters. 

Minor character flaws

Minor character flaws are small faults or defects in a character that help make that character memorable. Examples of character flaws like this are a tic or habit, a minor phobia, or a physical impediment which can be both memorable and a hindrance. For instance, Indiana Jones is famously afraid of snakes but is confronted with them several times in his movies, having to overcome his fear to survive and succeed. This character flaw shows how he is imperfect, but also how he is capable of mastering his feelings to accomplish his goals.

Private detective Cormoran Strike in the novels by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) lost part of his leg in Afghanistan and so uses a prosthesis, which causes pain, and which in turn slows him down. He can't run quickly, so he often has to resort to his wiles - and to the aid of others - to follow and catch people. He sees this flaw in his physical prowess as a sign of weakness, which makes him frustrated, but it doesn’t actually prevent him from solving cases and helps the reader root for him to succeed.

Major character flaws

Major character flaws are flaws that a character needs to overcome in order to accomplish the central goal in their arc. When developing characters, flaws are essential to help create conflict, which is the main element that drives drama. Major flaws in characters need to be obvious, so readers can be aware of the characters' struggle to overcome them, but must not be too exaggerated so as to seem like gimmicks.

Good examples of character flaws that could be considered major are the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. In fiction, gluttony and sloth are not the most useful major character flaws, but they can be secondary flaws for some characters. Lust, greed, wrath, envy, and pride are more commonly used as character flaws, and a combination of these may exist in any protagonist or villain. Lust, as adultery, is a common character flaw: think of Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and the themes of The Scarlet Letter. Greed is another common major character flaw, driving novels including The Great Gatsby, The Bonfire of the Vanities, or films like Wall Street or The Big Short.

The major character flaws that are easiest to use are addiction, arrogance, cowardice, dishonesty, fear, gullibility, ignorance, jealousy, lust for power, paranoia, prejudice, selfishness, spitefulness and vanity. And one that has fuelled a great deal of drama is the desire to seek revenge. These character flaws all sound negative, and are most often used for antagonists and villains. But even protagonists and heroes can have personalities that incorporate these flaws, perhaps in smaller amounts, as everyone has a dark side - or at least a hint of one. 

The plots of most mysteries and thrillers are constructed around major character flaws, whether it be lust, greed, or pride, as these flaws fuel the emotions that lead to murder. Revenge is also an obvious candidate for the motivation of this. While revenge is not one of the big seven sins, it is common in fiction. From Hamlet to Les Miserables, and from Gone Girl to True Grit, revenge is both a character flaw and a leading motivator.  

But not all flaws are bad; some character flaws can be endearing, and can be the type of flaws that protagonists overcome to become better people or achieve their goals. These are things like being awkward, capricious, childish, clumsy, dull, foolish, meek, naive, shy, spoiled, or stubborn. When characters vanquish these flaws, they can become better people - take Jane Austen's Emma as an example. Overcoming these types of flaws may not be the central goal in a novel, but they can be a stepping stone toward achieving something else. For example, overcoming shyness may lead a character to win over the hesitant lover they desire. Developing maturity may be what someone needs to accomplish the project they have planned and win the day.

Versions of these flaws can be seen in fiction and movies. Bridget Jones is full of flaws, and part of the enjoyment of her character is the fact that she has to navigate life while dealing with these. We can all relate to her: she is insecure, awkward, a bit neurotic and highly imperfect, like we all are.  

Fatal character flaws

Fatal or tragic flaws in characters are those which ultimately prevent that character from achieving their goals, causing them to fail. Known as hamartia, from Aristotle's Poetics, this sort of flaw is common in tragedies. Think of Othello's jealousy, Hamlet's indecisiveness, or Macbeth's ambition. In Moby-Dick, Captain Ahab's obsession with chasing the whale leads to his death.

Character fatal flaws generally show up in villains. Examples of these fatal flaws include the personalities of all the Bond villains, who want more and more money and power, but whose greed always causes them to be thwarted. Walter White's tragic flaw in Breaking Bad is his hubris and desire for money and power. Memorable characters in tragedy are complex, so while this fatal flaw eventually brings them down, it's essential to show that there are moments when they could have overcome it and saved themselves.

Writing Character Flaws Using Scrivener

When you use Scrivener, you can use character sketches, documents where you can record information about your characters. This can contain information such as their physical description, back story and more. As part of this sketch you should add their minor, major, and fatal character flaws to these descriptions to create a reference point for you as you write. 

You could say that character flaws are the bread and butter of fiction, adding humanity to your creations. Why not add some of the examples of character flaws above to your work to make your readers love your characters, flaws and all?

Scrivener is writing software designed for you to get writing – and keep writing. Scrivener is the go-to program for writers of all genres, with best-selling novels, screenplays, nonfiction books, student essays, academic papers and more being written with it every day. Scrivener won’t tell you how to write; instead, it will give you everything you need to get started and keep writing, letting you mould the app to how you work best. Why not take a look?

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