Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Giving a character flaws

I hate my characters' flaws. I don't mean that I wish I could think up different ones, I mean they suit them well, but I hate what I've done to them. It's hard to choose flaws.

Some are an easy cop out. The pretty girl that's full of self-doubt. The brilliant guy who's too indifferent or a womanizer. Those are so worn, that you almost cringe when you recognize them in a book. But they work well in tandem with other flaws.

Others are indefensible. Making a protag a pedophile isn't going to work. No matter what the rationalization, he's not going to be a sympathetic figure for 98% of the readers.

Being insensitive isn't bad. Someone who exhibits bigoted views can be sympathetic as long as they have redeeming features and make progress on the bigotry during the manuscript.

Stupidity is an exceptional flaw, but it really limits the character.

I like to use a smorgasbord of flaws in the characters. Some flaws are more prominent than others.  Making them human seems to be the way to go. Humans screw up in a variety of ways. Lovable humans screw up in a variety of ways, and even act cruel, greedy, selfish, petty, etc...at times. Flaws are important. Subtle flaws are realistic. Usually, I just draw on my own flaws to find one for my character.


  1. Flaws can be fun, but yes, forced ones make me cringe. My favorite character flaws seem to be the ones that I didn't intend from the beginning but cropped up in order to add conflict to a particular scene and then stuck.

  2. There are so many kickass heroines who are 'secretly' insecure, and the alpha male, on a quest to save the universe, falls deeply in love upon first sight, and beats his chest whenever anyone from a gay eunuch to the villain, also instantly in love with the secretly-needs-to-be-cuddled heroine, inadvertently speaks to her.
    Christopher Moore wrote a novel about a beta guy, and proud of it, which I loved.
    I’m sure a man with as much imagination as you, Fred, will come up with those traits that make your character damn evil. Can’t wait until you’re ready to share.

  3. I know all my characters have flaws - intentional or not! LOL I must admit I don't set out with a flaw in mind, it just happens though since the heroines are based on me - (apart from the gorgeous part) - I have plenty of faults to draw on. So I guess we're alike in that Fred! The really dangerous thing is when we use real people's flaws and give them to characters who could be recognized. I just read a book called Mad World - which is about Evelyn Waugh - the Brideshead Revisited chap - it shows how he based almost ever character he wrote on amalgams of people he knew. If friends got upset, he took certain details out and after they died, put them back!