4 Essential Aspects of Any Character Flaw

October 19, 2018

Crafting three-dimensional characters is a complicated process involving a distinct voice, engaging descriptions, consistency, and a significant amount of luck. Why luck? Because a reader’s ability to connect with your character will depend on his own life experiences. He’ll only form a bond if he can see similarities between himself and the character. If both your reader’s parents are alive, the orphan trope won’t strike a chord. However, if he went to school with a beefy jerk named Moe, he’ll empathize with a bullied fifth grader.


Guessing what circumstances readers will identify with is tricky. You might nail it, but often you’ll end up estranging readers with backstory, which won’t carry a character through a novel. You need to tie readers’ hearts to your characters with a stronger and more reliable thread. And what does everyone share? Flaws. Choosing and developing flaws in your characters will make them relatable to anyone who’s imperfect. Sound like people you know? Let’s investigate how to add the right type of flaws then.


1. Flaws Should Be Inherent

When writers create characters, brainstorming tends to follow this pattern: “Handsome? Check. Smart? Check. Strong? Check. Oh… He needs a flaw. Hm… Well, I’ll give him anger issues. Check.”


But that’s not how character flaws should work. In the real world, our weaknesses, sins, and dark secrets aren’t tacked onto our otherwise faultless selves. Our flaws are a deep part of us, impacting our insecurities, interaction with others, goals, lifestyle, habits, and thoughts.


When you’re ingraining a flaw in your character, don’t start from the outside and move inward. Begin at your character’s core. What are his defining moments? If he’s an orphan, maybe he’s searching for love in the wrong places. If he grew up poor, maybe he’s materialistic. If he was raised in a cushy environment, maybe he’s afraid of the real world.


Once you’ve decided on an origin-based flaw, consider how it affects your character’s goals, interactions, and grocery lists. Keep in mind that subtlety is best. Anger problems are more relatable when the character is slamming his fist on a bathroom counter than when he’s pinned someone against the wall with a double-barreled shotgun.


2. Flaws Should Be Serious

Beginning writers frequently give their characters flaws that lack importance. Their characters are either superheroes with harsh tongues or beauty queens with scars on their cheeks. Those kinds of flaws aren’t enough to forge a connection with readers.


We all struggle with anxiety, lust, depression, etc. If the hero’s worst flaws are superficial, that will distance readers instead of binding them to the character. Every character doesn’t have to be prone to murderous rage, but the flaw must be consequential, not something that can be shrugged off.


3. Flaws Should Be Costly

The flaws we wrestle with in life exact a heavy price. Damaged relationships, wasted time, and physical harm are often direct results of our inner demons winning battles. If your characters don’t suffer losses because of their flaws, they’ll seem unrealistic. Real people commit real mistakes that have real consequences.


4. Flaws Should Be Sympathetic

For a flaw to be sympathetic and not just repulsive, it must be normal. That might sound obvious, but for some reason many writers are tempted to try creating a scarred and twisted antihero. That’s a hard task, and a separate discussion from character flaws. Since most readers aren’t fueled by murderous rage, that flaw won’t help you accomplish your goal.


Show your character fighting his flaw. A guy who cusses out his friend will instantly disgust readers. A guy who hates his temper and writes long apology letters that he can’t bring himself to send will engage readers equally quickly.


Pulling Heartstrings

Weaknesses are more interesting than strengths. Character flaws raise unspoken questions that we all ask ourselves in difficult moments. Will we overcome? Will we stay the course? Will we run the race? Do we even want to?


Spend time building your characters around their flaws. Allow their shortcomings to shape them into broken, beautiful people who readers will love and follow through your story’s triumphs and trials.


  1. Sandrina

    Character flaws are definitely something I struggle to give my characters! Thanks for this article! And I can’t wait till next month.

    • Brandon Miller

      Does that make flaws your flaw? FLAWCEPTION. (Okay but seriously, me too. Glad this helped!)

  2. Andrew Schmidt

    Nice article, Brandon! 🙂
    I look forward to the one about character arcs!

    • Brandon Miller

      Thanks! And thank you for reading!

  3. Serenity

    This is awesome! Cant wait to see the next one!!!

    • Brandon Miller

      lol neither can I! 😛

    • Brandon Miller

      Did Cindy tell you to thumps up this? *thumbs down*

  4. Katherine Baker

    This was so good! Thank you so much for the reminder and help.

    • Brandon Miller

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!

  5. AgentMime

    Here’s one thing I’m wondering about: How do I make sure that flaws aren’t making my character petty/unlikeable?

    • Brandon Miller

      The best way to avoid making your character petty is to make them active. (Actually, that’s basically the best way to fix most character problems…)
      For example, if you have a character who doesn’t get along with a sibling, that character is probably going to be unlikeable and petty (at least when the sibling is around.) On the other hand, if you have an underdog character standing up to a bully for a new kid at school, but that character doesn’t get along with his sibling, we will end seeing the character as an embattled hero instead of a pesky child.

  6. Elixa Parr

    Finding flaws are so fun especially for the villains XD

  7. Savannah Baber

    Thanks so much! This really helped. I’ve been trying to figure out why my protagonist’s flaws seemed petty and irrational for a while now, haha.

  8. J. S. Clingman

    Oh my goodness, thank you for writing this. I totally need to work on creating realistic characters. You just gave me a checklist. XD


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