Character weaknesses are character flaws. Most great characters have them, which can be part of what makes them great, or probably not. Flaws can be considered a negative thing in real life, but they can somehow become endearing and relatable in the world of fiction. The reason readers like flawed characters so much is because humans are flawed, even the ones who do not think they are. Flawed characters can reflect something in the readers or viewers that encounter them, making them more relatable and allowing a form of kinship to brew with the reader or viewer relating to the character.
Strength Is Great
A character should have strengths. Character strengths often guide a story, provide motivation, or build an arc, and it is probably what will save the day in the story. Character strengths are also highly relatable, and as our strengths give us self-confidence and pride, we enjoy relating to a character’s strength or heroism.
Having strength is often expected of characters, so it is a trope that readers are accustomed to and might expect to see in a story. But having a character with flaws or weaknesses is like the anti-strength and heroism, which can also be how readers see themselves. They have their strengths (or do not feel they do), but they probably know their weaknesses.
If a character is standing on a shining hill, exuding strength from an emblem on their chest, the reader thinks, “Oh wow, they have it all figured out. What an icon!” But that does not make the character exciting. It suddenly becomes a more compelling story if the reader discovers what hardships the character had to overcome to get there.
Character Weaknesses Are Relatable With A Main Character
To be the hero, the character started at the bottom, fighting monsters and self-doubt the whole way up. The audience might not relate to fighting monsters (unless they think metaphorically). Still, they will probably relate to some level of self-doubt and having to climb something (physically or metaphorically). Once we understand a character’s flaws (in this case, self-doubt), we suddenly respect that they accomplished their successes despite their weaknesses. How great is that?
Weakness + Strength = Growth
A character’s flaws against their accomplishments are a measure of greatness. Any person who is experiencing that character can suddenly see themselves overcoming hardships. It is an intuitive way to make a character likable. If the accomplishment is to overcome the evil of Sauron, then the hobbits, despite having a small stature, are indeed a measure of greatness when they succeed at their goal.
Unless It Goes Too Far
If a character has so many flaws that it muddles the story, the reader might not appreciate the experience. Any detail that weakens the flow of the story will cause the reader to question or dislike the character. Perhaps that is what is intended, but be aware that flaws that seem to come out of nowhere or are not rooted in the plot will seem like random things stuck to a character to make them seem like something. Make sure flaws are genuine and organic so readers can relate to the story. Connect the flaws to an essential part of a character’s personality or the plot itself.
Character Weakness: The 3 Varying Levels of Character Flaw
Not all character flaws are built the same way. There can be simple flaws (clumsy) that make a character endearing and can even move plot points along at points. Then there are the worst flaws, such as manipulative, abusive, or even murderous. Depending on the severity of the flaw, it can play a vastly different part in the story.
1. Minor Character Flaw
These can be minor flaws, such as late, forgetful, irrational, illogical, clumsy, or even weak hearing or poor eyesight (remember the Mr. Magoo cartoons?). Minor flaws or personality traits can often make a character relatable and can do things that tend to affect the plot or move it forward in exciting ways.
For instance, Mr. Magoo, who cannot see very well, always seems to find himself in near-death situations due to his condition. Yet, he somehow avoids harm by pure chance, or because he cannot see the danger in front of him. This dramatic irony in the story is funny to readers or viewers and can make the character enjoyable and likable.
Minor flaws can play into major plot points along the way. Maybe, Mr. Magoo’s poor eyesight causes construction sight mayhem, affecting the danger he is in.
2. Medium Character Flaw
These flaws might affect how a character exists or cannot reach their goal throughout a story or be a feature in the conflict of the story. These flaws can be emotional, behavioral, or sometimes physical. They might or might not affect the story, but if they play a significant part in the character’s being, it is likely to impact the story being told. Examples include Tony Stark’s arrogance or the selflessness portrayed as a problem for Bella Swan. These affect the story but do not necessarily control the story as a whole.
- Daisy’s lack of compassion in The Great Gatsby
- Holden Caulfield’s superiority in The Catcher in the Rye
- Chase’s fear of Adventure City in PAW Patrol the Movie.
While each character flaw does not affect the entire outcome of the plotline, they each play significant parts of the drama throughout the stories.
3. Major Character Flaw
A severe or even fatal flaw can drive the story’s primary conflict or could be a flaw that causes a character’s eventual downfall. A major flaw can debilitate a character and dominate a character arc and even the main plot.
For example, Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter has more than one flaw, but his arrogance is most recognizable. The fatal flaw makes him believe his power can be dispersed, but he finds out that he is not as powerful as Harry Potter, which leads to his eventual downfall.
On the other hand, Harry Potter’s major flaw is his self-doubt, which he must overcome to resolve the main conflict. Harry Potter’s weakness is to overcome his character arc and the story arc. Hence, it becomes clear how the flaws of both characters add depth to their personalities, the conflict, and the plot itself.
Although Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort are flawed characters, they do not take the same paths. Many other factors make a character more than their flaws, such as past and present motivations and the challenges and successes they face in their journey.
Another example includes Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab and his narrow-minded vision in hunting a white whale. (A ‘white whale’ has become synonymous with chasing a goal obsessively to ruin.) Major flaws take over a character’s personality and thus affect the character throughout the story.
The 3 Best Character Flaw And Fatal Flaw Ideas
1. Using Vices To Create Character Flaws
The three classic trifectas of being ill are sex, drugs, and alcohol. These areas are as old as people themselves, and all are highly relatable to many. As a character flaw, you almost cannot go wrong with any of these three. They can overlap and be built into a part of the story or a minor part. But as mentioned above, going too far with it might make an endearing drunk into an abusive alcoholic. Perhaps that is the intention.
Other vices might include gambling, excessive desire, greed, and the list goes on. Consider the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride. These are as old as time itself, so mix and match it as you wish.
2. Use Discretion When Creating Character Flaws
Try to avoid being exploitative about flaws and make sure they are built into the person’s personality in a way meant to connect with the reader rather than portraying someone as an addict just because you want them to look bad.
3. Other Interesting Character Flaws
Characters might have other things about their past that hold them back from reaching a goal. If some part of their personality hinders a character’s life or purpose, it can be considered a flaw. Emotional baggage can destabilize anyone. Things from the past can tether a person from moving forward. This might make the main character afraid of risk or develop anxiety that affects them adversely in the story. (The ‘flaw’ certainly does not have to be of their own making, either.)
Excessive pride can make a character narrow-minded. It can be used for the worst kinds of villains but can also provide moments of humor. Weakly-willed characters might be too meek to act on something that will help or even save them. This might be tied to another character flaw, low self-esteem.
Absent-mindedness can be cute at times but also deadly. What happens if the hero suddenly forgets the code to disarm the bomb? Gullibility (the ability to be easily deceived) can also be an endearing character trait at times but could also lead to deadly consequences. Extremely high standards (especially if that character does not adhere to those same high standards themselves). The last one is being quirky. It is best used sparingly like salt unless it is a kid’s book.
You can also look to your family and friends for inspiration, though they might appreciate it if you did not shine a light on their flaws. Enemies are fair game, though.
What Is A Character ‘Flaw’?
It has been said that Bella Swan from the Twilight series is flawed for being too selfless. But is that really a flaw? Some might consider it a virtue. After all, selflessness means that a person is thinking about other people first. It is hard to throw a negative light on that.
However, as her selflessness often comes at the cost of her well-being, it can be argued that Bella’s selflessness is indeed a flaw since it can also be considered a virtue that is harder to pinpoint as a definitive flaw. Some could even argue that it is not a flaw at all.
Is being too kind or wanting to do the right thing even when no one else is looking considered a flaw? These flaws operate in a gray area because they can also be virtues. If they are to be used as flaws, they have to be handled in a way that reveals a flaw hiding in the face of virtue. Just as there are always new ways to tell stories, there are always new complexities that characters will have. Explore as you want because anything is possible in fiction.
When Major Character Flaws Drive Everything
The internet has plenty of character flaw ideas, but character flaws are best when they are relatable and somehow connected to the plot. In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher Boone’s Asperger Syndrome dramatically affects his ability to carry out tasks throughout the novel. Yet he is driven by the need to find answers to overcome his “flaw” and discover the truth he wants. His Asperger’s Syndrome is only considered a flaw in this story because it challenges the character to carry out the actions he wishes to and is not meant to provide commentary on neurodiversity.
In the same book, Boone’s father is the ultimate flawed character for the sum of his actions revealed throughout the story. The reader sees that the protagonist, Christopher, is a product of a flawed environment. This might be considered a virtue when the audience empathizes with him because they understand what Christopher has been through.
The reader is also proud of Christopher for accomplishing his goals and can relate to overcoming the challenges he has to face, such as internal and external conflicts stemming from the flaws of those around him. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is an example of how the main conflict in the novel can be driven by the flaws of the characters in the story.
List of Fatal Flaws
Readers can often forgive flaws that are harmless to other people or are generally out of the control of the characters, like having impaired vision or being physically inactive. However, since some character flaws are fatal, the audience may feel varying intense emotions like irritation, anger, disgust, or pity because they can foresee how this flaw may result in tragedy for the character.
Here are some examples of fatal flaws:
- Misplaced trust
- Being envious
- Being greedy
- Being proud
- Excessive curiosity
- Being too naive
- Lack of self-control
- Being too impulsive
- Having a tendency for aggression
- Being too judgmental
The above-listed are just a few of the many fatal flaws writers can use. However, writers should ensure that these deadly or disaster-prone flaws are coherent with the plot development and weave events so that the character development shows how these flaws came into existence and ultimately became unmanageable for the character.
Humans are flawed creatures, and only a few people can relate to a character in any story that has no flaws. Characters are brought to life by their actions and their past. When a reader or a viewer can identify with something they see in a character, it moves the storytelling experience from passive to active. It engages readers to see something of themselves reflected in the character of the story. They feel like they are part of the story.
Use flawed characters in the most humane way possible. Do not just make a grumpy old man character who does not like people on his lawn. Give that character history, and expose why he mistrusts strangers on his property. Make your flaws realistic so that people can relate to the characters. Also, connect the flaws to something inherently deeper in the background story of your character, and the reader will be in for the ride.