Character Flaws - Tips for Character Development
What are character flaws, how to use them, and examples!
By: J.E. Keys
In reality, nothing and no one is perfect. Therefore, the same reasonable expectations apply to your story and characters. Your characters need to have flaws to make them feel believable. Otherwise, you risk your readers not connecting with your characters, or worse, your story. And that’s certainly something to avoid.
So how do your characters get their flaws?
Let’s start off simple.
Everyone has flaws! Some may be physical flaws like a birthmark or skin discoloration. There will be personality flaws, things like anger issues, anxiety, or control issues. Even a dimple, for as simple as it is, could be a character flaw. They are the little imperfections that make your characters unique.
Anything that makes your characters not perfect. A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Those imperfections make the characters feel real and relatable to the reader. And the more relatable they are, the more endeared readers will be to them.
But how do we decide what flaws our characters should have?
That’s the big question, isn’t it?
The best rule of thumb is to start by looking at your character’s existing strengths, and your plot arch. Example: You have a famous warrior character. He is present in a castle that is under siege. Everyone, including the King, is looking to him to lead the charge. But the incumbents have a dragon, and our warrior is absolutely losing his mind about fire. He’s refusing to leave the walls, much less the castle.
His flaw here is that he’s afraid of fire, and that flaw is causing him to create conflict. Letting the character flaw play directly into conflict with the plot creates tension, and tension makes your story interesting!
Let’s try another example.
June is a girl going to high school. She’s very popular and has dozens of friends. However, one of her friends has recently started dating her ex-boyfriend Todd. This sparks a rage of jealousy in June, as she still has feelings for Todd. She takes her jealousy out on the other girls, turning her into a poor friend.
June’s flaw is her inability to control her jealousy, and her actions create conflict that moves the plot along. Will June overcome her jealousy, make amends with her friends, and come to terms with her feelings for Todd?
Now, June’s character flaw is moving the plot along, and it also added more information about the type of person June is. This leads another opportunity to hint to the reader details about your characters and add depth to your character arch. Maybe by the end of the book, June has grown as a person, cast her jealousy aside, and could be happy for Todd in his new relationship.
When you make the character flaws work for you, it gives extra depth to your plot, adds to the conflict, and helps develop your character’s arch and development.
There are still more ways you can use character flaws to your advantage with readers!
One way to make a character endearing to a reader is to give them a flaw that is a physical tick. Maybe they’re always biting their lip or nails. Sometimes you’ll catch people fidgeting with hair or jewelry. Think of things you do without realizing it, and pay attention to ones that others do too.
As a general guideline, these shouldn’t be big or elaborate actions. Think small and think personalized. Here are two examples:
Tick: Fidgeting with a ring that is precious for a specific reason. (Heirloom, sentimental value, monetary value, significator.)
How that looks: Lee stood, heart pounding, watching the feet of those in line in front of her. She was not good with social interactions, and she knew it. Her thumb reached up and turned the ring on her middle finger. It was a dirty silver thing with a round onyx crystal embedded in the band. A gift when she was a child that she never took off. Now, as an adult, it’s become her worry stone. As her thumb loosened the ring on her finger, she spun it, counting the moments until it was her dreaded turn in line.
Tick: Talking to one’s self due to lack of routine social interaction.
How that looks: Jack had worked with Samantha every night this week on the closing shift. He disliked having to be at the restaurant this late, but he was thankful Samantha was there with him. She made everything easy and took care of most of the work herself. All night she would bustle around like a tornado, ushering mess away and tiding for the night.
Jack was standing at the register when she passed him, carrying a load of cups to the back. “Don’t drop them!” he heard her say. He almost didn’t hear her with the noise of the kitchen in the background, but he saw her mouth utter the words.
“Are you talking to yourself?” he asked, followed by a rustling from behind him. He turned around to her gaping at him, like a deer in headlights, and the cups she was carrying littered on the floor. After a long pause, she nodded.
When you use a character tick, you build a rapport with the reader, and add greater depth to your characters.
Character flaws are an important piece of character development and are essential to writing a wonderful story. They help create juicy conflict in our plots by causing problems that our characters have to solve, and a starting point for them to grow into the heroes we know them to be. There are several ways to use your characters’ flaws, as long as you stick to making them work for you!
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