Nobody is perfect, but it’s actually your flaws that mold you. Therefore, it’s good to give characters flaws in literature. Explore some of the most common character flaws along with common examples of character flaws in literature.
You’ll notice characters in books are full of flaws, even the seemingly flawless ones. Without those flaws to make heroes and villains likable or relatable, you wouldn’t read a story. In literature, a character flaw is an undesirable trait to their personality. Character flaws come in different types.
- Minor character flaws are minor physical or mental quirks to a character’s personality. Rather than affecting the plot, they make the character memorable. For example, you might have a character that always seems to say the wrong thing, which works to add comedic relief.
- Major character flaws come from life-changing events that affected the character. For example, Katniss Everdeen has a fatal flaw of putting others before herself. Not only with her sister, but in the end with Peeta as well. This major flaw in her character nearly gets her killed dozens of times.
- Fatal character flaws are the ones that make or break a character. These are flaws they must overcome or die. For example, Tom Riddle's fatal flaw, fear of death, leads to him seeking immortality and becoming Lord Voldemort.
- And finally, tragic character flaws lead to a character's death. For example, the character Achilles' excessive pride of invincibility led to his death after the shot to his Achilles heel.
Literature is filled with flawed characters. Those character flaws push the story forward. Explore common character flaws found among literary heroes, villains, and sidekicks.
Being abusive is a character flaw many literary villains possess. In Reason to Breathe by Rebecca Donovan, Aunt Carol is abusive to Emma. Not only is she physically abusive to Emma, but she’s emotionally abusive as well.
Addiction is another common plot device used to move a story forward or create conflict in the character’s life. While sometimes, the book is about the main character overcoming addiction, other stories have a character with both addictive and abusive tendencies. This is true of the character Daddy in Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward.
Pride is a big one when it comes to character flaws. In Greek Mythology and William Shakespeare works, this often leads to a character’s death. Look no further than Macbeth to see a character with excessive pride. His excessive pride led to his downfall.
Fears can rule our lives. From fear of death to a spider phobia, fear can make an interesting character flaw. This is especially true when it comes to overcoming it. When thinking of fear in a character, you might think of Piglet in Winnie-the-Pooh. Not only is he fearful, but his fears and anxieties sometimes take over. However, Pooh is always there to calm him down.
Greed drives a character to commit all kinds of atrocities in the world. In the world of literature, one famous greedy character is Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. His greed defines him in the beginning, but through his time spent with the ghosts, Scrooge is able to see the error of his ways.
Jealousy can often make you do stupid things. For example, being jealous of one’s significant other has even led some literary characters to commit murder. Look no further than Othello’s jealousy in William Shakespeare’s Othello. Othello murders his wife because of this trait.
While incompetence can be a fatal character flaw, it can add humor to a work. Think of Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars series; he’s definitely incompetent in many ways but adds comedic relief nonetheless. A famous character in literature with incompetence is Peregrin (Pippin) Took in The Fellowship of the Rings. He’s a young and foolish Hobbit, making him incompetent at many tasks. However, he also becomes an underdog you root for.
What makes a good villain? Well, a lust for power, of course. A famous villain with a lust for power in The Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins is Alma Coin. Her lust for power causes her to create the same problems as the previous leader, President Snow. It also leads to her death.
Rebels can start a great story. For example, Divergent’s Tris knows she’s different. And while she should join the Abnegation faction like the rest of her family, she rebels to join Dauntless instead. Without this rebellious streak, the story wouldn’t exist.
Vain characters can easily have you rolling your eyes. With their puffed-up chests, they don’t see exactly how weak they might be. Take for instance, Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice. He only cares about what others think of him and talks about it incessantly. He’s so vain he can’t even begin to understand why Elizabeth would refuse him.
While those might be the most common character flaw examples you come across in literature, it is far from a comprehensive list. Other common character trait flaws found in literature include:
- arrogance - haughty self-importance
- aversion - avoidance of certain fears like spiders or snakes
- cowardice - timid, afraid to face danger
- disturbed - having a mental illness, being delusional or neurotic
- dishonest - a liar; compulsive liar or lies in an important situation
- egotistical - pompous; inflated importance
- gullible - easily deceived; believes anything
- hypocritical - character who contradicts ideals; saying one thing but doing another
- ignorant - lacking knowledge before forming judgements
- lazy - refuses to or doesn’t want to work
- messy - lives with or is surrounded by clutter
- nervous - prone to anxiety in situations
- paranoid - has irrational fears that are extreme
- prejudice - holds ideas without factual bearing or disregard facts
- perfectionism - sets extremely high standards and expects perfection
- rage - quick to anger and create destruction
- selfish - thinks only about one’s self
- spiteful - malicious toward others; vindictive
- timid - shy or meek
- vengeful - prone to seeking revenge
It’s important for a character to have some flaws. Therefore, they can not only stand out, but grow and change throughout a story. Keep your character exploration going by looking at examples of personality traits.