A Better Story With Character Flaws: Make Your Story More Realistic

When you write a story, you don’t want perfect characters. The most realistic protagonist has character flaws. Whether this character flaw is a major flaw, a fatal flaw, or a minor character flaw is entirely up to you, and how these flaws affect the character’s life, and the plot is also up to you.

Character Flaws Make Your Story More Realistic

If you don’t have a main character with some sort of personality defect, you may have a hard time getting readers to care about the story because it most likely won’t be a very realistic story. You may have an excessive desire to have the main character or hero of your story who is perfect because, well, who doesn’t want to be perfect?

Most writers inject a little bit of themselves, who they wish they were, and what they wish they could be into their stories. It can be tempting to make a character so strong that they lack even a minor flaw. But that can spell our own downfall as writers.

A character’s actions, attitude, how they interact with other characters, and how they overcome conflict or fold when conflict occurs. All of these things are driven by flaws. 

A character flaw in your protagonist directly affects the way the story goes. In every interaction, it needs to be considered. Whether or not your character lives to the end of the story is irrelevant, but the weakness you give your character will affect the story.

This article will provide examples of character flaws you can give your protagonist. As well as other people in your book, and how each specific sort of flaw can shape or steer your book and help you create something that most people would either relate to or feel a sense of understanding towards.

When a reader can believe that this character could walk out of the pages of a book and exist in reality, you’ve written a good character. We all have character flaws. Characters in books should have them, too.

Types of Character Flaws

Major Flaws

When there’s a major character flaw present in your story, it can go several ways. It can provide excellent ammunition for the character arc if your character is able to work through the major flaw, it can lead to your character’s demise, it can drive your character’s motives, and it can make for a truly exceptional character when it’s all said and done.

Let’s look at an example of a major character flaw in classic literature.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote horror, and although his stories were all fictional works, his stories are widely cited as examples of how anger in the main character and lack of self-control can make a story truly unforgettable.

The violent temper of the main character in “The Tell-Tale Heart” leads to the eventual death of a man because the narrator, who is our protagonist, is weak-willed and suffers from an unnamed mental illness. He suffers from auditory hallucinations, which lead him to the belief that there is some sort of evil taunting him.

character flaw

The sense of anger and fear that this creates in the man provides dimension to both the character and the plot. And the tragic ending of this short story has been made possible by a character flaw. If the character didn’t have these major flaws, the story would have ended differently, and quite possibly, the story wouldn’t exist at all.

Types of Major Flaws

Any character flaw can turn into a major character flaw if you emphasize it as an author. Your characters can have a deficiency present that gets amped up and exaggerated by you, the author, to the point that it plays a critical hindrance to the character and affects everything else in the story.

The following are some examples of some popular flaws that are usually major factors in how the story turns out.

Excessive Pride and/or Excessive Fear

Stephen King’s “The Stand” has a list of characters that is formidable. It is also known as his greatest piece of work. His masterpiece, if you will. Most of the people in his book have at least a minor flaw, but some are plagued with character flaws so intense that it takes over part of the plot and motivates the person in the story to do some truly irrational things.

In the behemoth novel, a writer named Harold Lauder, who some claim emulates King himself, has an irrational fear that he will never achieve the greatness he feels he was destined to attain. 

He has such an extreme level of pride that he refuses to ask for help, admit defeat, or accept that he cannot overcome the conflicts he is faced with. His character flaw turns into a fatal flaw, and everyone sees it coming pretty early in the novel. The question for the reader isn’t if he will meet demise due to the character flaws present, but when and how.

He has extremely high standards that he pushes onto himself and everyone around him. He is terrified that if he doesn’t do something extreme, he won’t ever get the recognition his foolish pride has convinced him that he deserves. 

His outcome is a tragic one, and he never gains the power or love that he wants so much in life because he’s so afraid of potential failure and has a false sense of pride.

You can take flaws like the ones this character has, and you can twist them and amplify them and make your characters truly suffer because of them. 

Or you can create an atmosphere in which their belief in change or their hope for resolution can change the course of their actions, and their flaws are happily overcome. It is entirely up to you as the author, but having the flaws there affects what happens in your story, so flaws should exist in some form, no matter which way you steer the story.

Excessive Curiosity

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s character, Aliceis driven by her curiosity. It drives the character to pursue a white rabbit that was just going about its business down a hole in a tree, causing an entire story to form and giving us the well-known and beloved story Carroll produced.

Alice’s misplaced trust in the strange characters in that story gets her into all sorts of trouble, but it all starts when her curiosity gets the best of her. She can’t handle lacking knowledge of what that white rabbit is doing, where it’s going, and why it’s doing what it’s doing, so she follows it, and all manner of shenanigans ensue because of it.

Minor Flaws

The character flaws in your story don’t have to be huge to have an impact. A minor character flaw can change the events in a story, depending on how the characters react to the things that prey upon their flaws. 

You can make the character flaw something obvious when it’s a minor one, or you can make the reader analyze the character to figure it out. It can be just under the surface, waiting to be exposed by the reader. 

Character flaw

This method can often make the difference between an insignificant flaw and a great character flaw. When readers figure out the character flaw, they feel as though they have really spent time with the character, which makes them feel connected to the story.

For example, if you have a character in your story which is suffering from male pattern baldness, and he is very insecure about it, you can prey upon it. Only really mentioning the male pattern of baldness, which is a physical “flaw” but not a direct character flaw, and how he reacts to his own image in the mirror, how he reacts when others bring it up, and how he reacts when his wife mentions or notices it can be signs of the character flaw brought to life by the hair loss, but it doesn’t directly label it. The reader has to figure it out.

Is this guy just angry that he’s losing his hair, or is it that he’s a deeply insecure person? Is vanity his issue? Does he think that masculinity, virility, or success are attached to his appearance? A reader has to figure it out, and in doing so, they connect to the story.

Types of Minor Flaws

When a flaw can be minor, you can see how the character is affected by the character flaw they have, but it doesn’t have to be any huge or easily noticeable flaw. It can be something like a simple foible or something like an addiction that affects their work or personal life but doesn’t necessarily lead to their downfall.

The following are some examples of this sort of flaw that characters can have in stories that can either gently ease you towards the climax of the story or can push it there quickly. It all depends on what degree the author wants to push the flaw and how he/she goes about it.

Gambling Addiction

If you have a character with any sort of addiction, you can take that flaw anywhere and get a story that is relatable to a large demographic of people. Gambling is an addiction that a lot of people can relate to.  

Whether it’s a simple matter of sports gambling, scratch-off tickets, playing the lottery or making high stakes wagers. This sort of addiction is a real human flaw that never has to take us anywhere more than a person with an addictive personality. Or it can become much more significant, even fatal. This is a flaw that can really run the gamut, depending upon how severe the addiction is.

Absent-Minded/Forgetful

Forgetting things quickly is a very real and present character flaw in a lot of us. We can relate to characters who have a hard time remembering all of the details, and it makes for more suspense and better mystery in a story.

For example, suppose you have an elderly character who is trying to navigate a memory and has forgotten parts of it that come to light towards the end of the story. 

In that case, you can form a sense of suspense for the reader that otherwise wouldn’t be present. The reader wants to know what it is that the character is leaving out due to poor memory. Whether or not the reader ever finds out what the forgotten details are is up to you as the writer.

Narrow Minded

This is another one that can run the gamut in terms of how major the flaw can become. A close-minded or “set in their ways” character can give them an endearing personality, or it can make us dislike or even hate them. It can lead to things like naivety, an innocent simplicity, racism, sexism, and all of those -isms that can make someone despicable.

Having a narrow mind can take a story in all sorts of directions. A stubborn toddler with this affliction can just be a lovable brat. In contrast, a grown man with this issue could be a misogynistic jerk who makes any decent person dislike him immensely, regardless of his good deeds.

A Fatal Flaw

This is the type of flaw that spells disaster and doom for a character, and we usually see it coming for these characters. These are often more challenging characters to write because we have to give them specific weaknesses, strengths, and personalities that would lead a person to a flaw that ends them. These are flaws that are often given to side characters but can really spell death for any character, depending on the desired plot that the author has in mind.

Types of Fatal Flaws

The following are some examples of this sort of flaw and how they can steer the story’s plot.

Being Easily Deceived

There’s a sucker born every minute, and in many genres of literature, we usually kill off or put the suckers through all sorts of torment before the story reaches its conclusion.

The sweet little old lady who lets a killer into her home because she believes the person is a bible salesperson. The happy-go-lucky college kid who believes his friends when they tell him they won’t get caught if they do something fun. 

Character flaw

The young child who believes the scary stories he’s told about the house he just moved to, so he spends every night afraid, hiding under his blankets in bed.

Gullibility is a weakness that many authors prey upon when they write stories. Many of us have been duped, just not fatally. We can empathize with these doomed characters, and it ties our emotions up into the story and compels us to keep reading to see what is going to happen.

Apathy

This fatal flaw is one often reserved for the villain in the book. A lack of emotion, the indifference felt when inflicting pain, and the carelessness of an apathetic character makes for a great and easily hated bad guy.

This is also a type of major flaw that we sometimes see when an exceptional character has a change of heart in a book, although that seems to happen somewhat infrequently.

Usually, the lack of empathy leads the character to his or her own demise because they get careless about who they are hurting, they get sloppy, and they get caught, killed, or both. Mystery, murder, horror, suspense, drama, thriller, and even romance novels capitalize on this sort of character for the bad guy because it works well.

Perfect is Boring

Perfect characters make for a boring read. No one wants to read a book about people who don’t do anything wrong, have no flaws, and never have negative thoughts or intentions. Even the Bible has flawed characters.

When you write, think of the imperfections that the most interesting people you know have. Think about your own imperfections. If you exaggerate them or twist them just a pinch, what sort of person would you be? What would be different in your life? Make your characters interesting, not flat. Real people have flaws.