Character flaws - what, why and how
“Perfection has one grave defect: it is apt to be dull.” – W. Somerset Maugham
Why flaws are important?
It is actually very often we’ve got to meet “sterile” characters in stories. They are just perfect… Well, not necessarily for the reader, but definitely for the writer.
Why is it very important to incorporate inner (not physical) flaws not only for main characters but for secondary as well?
The flaw is one of the main things that make human…well, human.
Flaws add depth and conflict, make the character more real and memorable.
If a character is perfect , then all the conflict in the story is someone else’s fault. The character is the victim of circumstances and just goes with the flow, too often relying on other people help. So many stories with “perfect” characters, that experience drama and bad treatment not because of their own decisions, but just because, for the sake of drama. The character becomes just a static thing in the story, that is being affected by other characters decisions.
Flaws also serve as a sub-plot for the story, that allows creating character development. H ow can character progress through the story without inner conflict, something to overcome? Flaws lead characters towards degradation and destruction or overcoming these flaws, and becoming a better person. Readers relate to the struggle, and they get an emotional connection with the character, especially if the character succeeds.
Why am I saying that physical imperfections are not flaws?
Because it’s not the physical imperfection that defines character’s actions and emotions. It is how it feels about them. Shame for disability? The regret of some past decisions that led to them? Pride for being different?
Now, this leads us to the thought, that when you choose a flaw, keep in mind that there has to be a reason behind it. Beliefs, traumatic past…
Now. IMO it is better to show the reason behind character’s major flaws because it will make the reader more sympathetic towards MC. The reason grounds the flaw and gives the reader a basis on which to judge it less harshly. It allows the reader to understand why the character is the way he/she is.
You don’t have to explain secondary characters flaws (while it is necessary to give them these flaws), but it’s better than you have this explanation in your head. When you know the reason behind the flaw - you will incorporate these flaws more successful , meaning that character won’t contradict himself, and there will be more logic in his actions/words/emotions. But you also should remember not to make the character be overwhelmed by these flaws.
How to better portray character’s flows
So first of all, don’t just label characters. Use the specifics to show the flaw, dialogues, reactions of other characters and MC own reactions and emotions to display these flaws.
Have him make a different mistake each time because you don’t want to get caught in the loop of similar scenes. It is extremely annoying.
I remember reviewing some story, where the character was positioned as a very independent bad-ass woman. Like, literally positioned, as writers described her precisely in the narration, which is the first thing to turn me off personally because I really enjoy getting to know the character at a reasonable pace. Now, there were put a lot of scenes, where MC interacts with other characters. And every conversation, although was happening with different characters, was written by the exact same scenario - someone scolds MC for being alone (sister, mother, best friends, the waitress in the restaurant (not kidding), and MC yelling at them that she is independent, and don’t need anyone. It was extremely annoying and basically looked silly. Don’t be too blunt when you show these flaws. Put the character in different situations where the flaw can be shown.
What else is important?
Flaw doesn’t mean shit if it doesn’t have any consequences.
In my story, MC has some unresolved problems with the past, that results in a few flaws. She doesn’t like to open up to anyone. While it drives away some people from her because it takes time to get through this shell, this is the thing she can work on, by trying slowly to build the trust, at least for some people. Also, because of the traumatic past, and her inability to open up, she was forced to find a way to deal with her feelings. I decided to go with the drinking problem, as it is kinda common, plus I can portray this problem realistically, because I incorporate my own past into this character, while raising awareness of the consequences this will lead to. I often see how writers portray drinking as a very fun thing to do, but in reality, it can be very ugly, and hard to deal with.
Punish your character for the actions and decisions, that were caused by their flaws. And let them deal with this punishment, either by overcoming them or by sinking even deeper until there’s no point of return.
I suggest adding these questions below, for your major character questionnaire. And remember, that there can easily be more than one flow.
What is the general flaw?
What are the specifics?
What is the cause of this flaw?
What makes it seem reasonable to the character?
What mistakes can the character make because of this flaw?
Do the consequences have an effect on the storyline?
Is the character aware or unaware of the flaw?
What form does the arc take in relation to the flaw?
Thanks @WritingWithStars for the very interesting topic (LoL xD Glad it can stay)
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