When you’re writing a character, it’s tempting to make them strong, brave, funny, and good looking. But flawed characters, or characters with faults or weaknesses, are actually more compelling than perfect ones! If you’re having trouble thinking of ways to make your characters flawed, check out this list of character flaws that can work for almost any story.
Characters need somewhere to go in their story. Without flaws, a character has no reason to develop or move the plot along. These flaws can be the result of their backstory or consequences from earlier events in the story. Spice up your writing with these ideas to challenge your characters and excite your readers!
Characters with minor flaws are more interesting than bland characters. Think of Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and his fear of snakes. It’s humorous that such a brave adventurer is afraid of slithering reptiles, but it doesn’t impact his ability to do his job.
Consider giving your character some of these character flaws to create reader interest:
- Always late: The character cannot get anywhere on time.
- Bad driver: They drive poorly because they are either unsure or too sure of their driving ability.
- Bleak: They constantly see the downside of a situation.
- Childlike: The character enjoys acting like a child, but must mature through the course of the story.
- Fearful (minor): They are mildly afraid of everyday items or actions.
- Flighty: The character can’t fulfill everyday commitments.
- Flirty: They can’t help but flirt with everyone they are attracted to.
- Gossipy: They love spreading rumors about other characters.
- Gruff: The character has a surly personality (but a heart of gold).
- Klutzy: They constantly bump into things, break items, or fall down.
- Lewd: The character makes inappropriate comments at inopportune moments.
- Naive: They are unaware of the ways of the world due to a sheltered upbringing.
- Melodramatic: They overreact in even the most ordinary situations.
- Perfectionist: They prefer things to be neat and tidy.
- Picky eater: The character doesn’t like specific foods (or only likes specific foods).
- Poor eyesight: The character needs glasses to see properly.
- Shallow: They only see people and circumstances as skin-deep.
- Spendthrift: They are happy to spend money on unnecessary things.
- Spoiled: The character was raised to expect only the best that money can buy.
- Squeamish: They are easily disgusted and nauseated by ordinary items.
- Vain: They are very pleased with themselves and not afraid to tell others how wonderful they are.
Remember that characters don’t necessarily need to overcome minor flaws over the course of a story. They can even help characters in the long run: maybe the picky eater is the one person to avoid food poisoning!
Unlike minor flaws, major character flaws impede a protagonist’s progress toward a goal. They keep the main character from getting what they want. Examples of characters with a major flaw are Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, whose flaws are stated directly in the title of Jane Austen’s classic book: Pride and Prejudice.
Try out these major character flaws when you need to move the plot along:
- Addicted: The character depends on a chemical substance or undesirable behavior.
- Arrogant: Their belief that others are inferior to them.
Bigoted: They are intolerant or cruel to people based on their race, sex, gender identity,
sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc.
- Callous: They don’t care about the feelings of other people.
- Childish: The character can’t rise to the occasion when adult behavior is required.
- Competitive: They can’t resist an opportunity to show how much better they are than someone else.
- Compulsive liar: The character has an inability to tell the truth, especially when it might get them into trouble.
- Critical: They constantly nag or degrade those around them for the purpose of improving that person.
- Disloyal: They betray those close to them for their own personal benefit.
- Fearful (phobias): The character’s chronic fear keeps them from performing actions or functioning in the world.
- Impulsive: They don’t think before they act.
- Indecisive: They can’t make a choice, even when the stakes are high.
- Jealous: The character doesn’t believe that their partner is faithful, or is constantly wanting something that another person has.
- Loyal to a fault: The character will not be disloyal to someone, even when that person is exhibiting harmful or antagonistic behavior (even to the point of fanaticism).
- Manipulative: The character controls others by lying or threatening them.
- Meek: They are too afraid to act in moments that require bravery.
- Obsessive: The character can’t let minor things go and becomes fixated.
- Paranoid: They are distrustful and always believe others are out to get them.
- Sarcastic: The character has a hard time making genuine comments without using sarcasm.
- Stubborn: They won’t change their mind on a topic, no matter what.
- Unambitious: They don’t want to get a job, move out, graduate, etc.
- Violent: The character resorts to physically harming someone rather than settling disputes peacefully.
Characters in comedies, romances, and dramas often have a major character flaw to get past. Once they do, they typically achieve their happy ending. However, in a tragedy, the main character’s inability to develop past their flaws typically leads to a tragic ending.
Protagonists with fatal or tragic flaws (known as hamartia) often make decisions that lead to death and heartbreak. These characters either can’t overcome their flaws or are unable to escape their consequences. Think of Oedipus’ hubris leading to the death of Laius and Jocasta, as well as his own blinding, in Oedipus Rex.
If you’re planning on a tragic ending for your character, try applying the seven deadly sins to your character’s behavior:
- Envy: Character obsessively and intensely desires what other characters have.
- Gluttony: They can’t stop themselves from overindulging in food, drink, or other substances.
- Greed: Their need for more money or resources affects their ability to have true relationships.
- Lust: Character is preoccupied with sexual desire or need for power that can’t be fulfilled.
- Pride: They think they’re better than anyone else and don’t need to follow standard rules, listen to advice, or heed warnings.
- Sloth: The character is so lazy that their inaction becomes its own action.
- Wrath: They are unable to control their rage in situations where extreme anger is unnecessary.