Let me burst your bubble. Nobody likes a flawless character. They come across as bland, flat, and boring. Why? Because nobody is perfect. Relatable character flaws help your creations come to life and allow your reader to tap in.
When I first started writing, my ‘heroes’ were perfect. They had gorgeous physiques, were sweet and brave when they needed to be. But no matter which adventures I made them go through, they were boring as hell and never came to life.
Relatable character flaws are needed for contrast, character growth, and engagement. As a general rule, readers frown upon Mary Sues (perfect characters). Strong flaws include internal turmoil, personal downfalls, and attraction. Well-known flawed characters are dr. Frankenstein, Rachel Watson, and Achilles.
Fortunately, the flaws are fun to play around with and easy to insert. Here is what to look for.
If your character is perfect, they cannot emotionally respond to situations. Their journey is not half as exciting as when they have hurdles to overcome or even fail every now and then.
Flaws help your character development, especially if the objective is the total opposite. I am talking about somebody who has love as their strength and hate as their flaw. It is a bit more complicated, but in short: every strength has its downsides. And I love that.
The protagonist of your story has a kind and loving heart. They are always ready to help their friends and want to do good. But they are also naïve, easily mislead, and can not say no. As you can see, this could lead to some serious trouble. Especially when criminals tap into that.
This protagonist is incredibly smart and can solve almost any scientific problem thrown at them. Unfortunately, they do not know how to communicate this in a way that other people understand them. So their knowledge goes to waste and they grow frustrated for always being misunderstood.
Make it about conflict
A character’s flaw in itself already creates an inner conflict. Which gives it more depth and dimension. It becomes even more interesting if that inner conflict also interferes with their ultimate goal or objective. It then becomes a hurdle they must overcome, which moves the story along.
Janine swallowed hard as the door slammed close behind her. Did mom really not understand that Eric needed her right now? He just lost his job and was all alone. The tears streamed over her face as she walked down the path. Her mother had called her naïve and stupid, only because she wanted to help her boyfriend out. She never even liked him to begin with. He found her to dominant in return. And Janine? She was stuck in the middle like always.
Do not overdo it
Just as any person, you want to give your protagonist multiple strengths and thus multiple flaws. Just because you are giving your character flaws, does not mean you have to turn them into an evil villain though. It is about layering their character. It says something about their personality.
Refrain from giving flaws just to give flaws though. When it does not move the story along, do not put it in there. Nobody likes to read about a protagonist picking their nose none stop unless it leads to a massive infection or something similar.
Flaws becoming strengths
When a character flaw becomes a hurdle they need to overcome to move towards their goal, it can be turned into a strength. They gain a new perspective, skill, or reach an inner acceptance. This is part of their growth and will strengthen their personality.
Moderation is the key once more. You see, all of us have multiple flaws, but most of us overcome one or two. Yep, we are stubborn like that. So keep it natural in your writing.
Flaws becoming downfalls
I am a very optimistic person in real life. But when it comes to my writing, I can be downright brutal. My characters often have flaws that lead them into trouble, but they do not always overcome them. Sometimes their flaws grow and grow until it consumes the protagonist and brings them down on their knees. Not everything in life ends well, after all.
A flaw becoming a downfall can lead to beautiful story arcs. Look at Darth Vader, for example, or Jack from the shining. And guess what killed the captain from Moby Dick? That is right, his obsession.
There are beautiful examples everywhere. All you have to do is watch.
Just like any other person
In short, your characters should be just like any other person. With relatable strengths but relatable character flaws as well. Make them diverse and play around a bit. After all… you are their God. Now go forth, and create!