It’s so easy to talk about our characters’ strengths, isn’t it? I know I do. I’m quick to bring up their good points.
He’s really great with computers, so he can help the story in that way.
She’s a fighter, so no matter what she never gives up – and I love that about her!
He’s able to read people, so even when everyone else is fooled, he’s not – which will be super important to the story!
She’s a great mom, despite her circumstances (whoop for all single moms!).
He’s good with money.
She can sing and play guitar (rawkfist for the female musicians).
She’s a hard worker.
He’s sweet and charming.
And on and on and on it goes.
Strengths are important, there’s really no question about that. If fictional characters had no strengths, they’d never make any headway in the story. The money wouldn’t be made, the debt wouldn’t be paid off, the trial wouldn’t be won, and the long-lost sister would never be found on the deserted island inhabited by spider monkeys who have learned the basics of nuclear physics (Booyah! for the spider monkeys having a stellar strength of their own!).
But along with these amazing strengths, don’t forget the flaws. Unbecoming traits aren’t just for villains, just like coveted good character traits shouldn’t be reserved for protagonists only. I know that with my own characters, I almost always think of their strengths first. Maybe that’s just the natural way I think of people – positive first, negative second. But what I’ve learned over the years is that flaws aren’t really a negative.
Flaws help to make a character relatable. Flaws can drive conflict and tension within a story. If my characters are walking around showing off their strengths but never their shortcomings, then they’re going to come out flat and unbelievable, and that’s a quick way to kill a story. Nobody wants to read about a perfect person who’s invincible. Flaws make your characters vulnerable, and being vulnerable is just as important as having all those attributes we admire. As people, we’ve all got our flaws. We all have things we suck at or things we always seem to screw up, so I make sure to dress my characters in varied shades of “oops!” as well as “hoorays!” Sometimes, I even like characters more for their flaws than for their strengths.
When you get down to the bones of a story, flaws aren’t a negative, but another way to bring the character in your head to life on the page for others to get to know – for them to relate to, and ultimately, to care about.
Here are a few of my favorite character flaws. . .in no particular order:
Being Overzealous For All The Wrong Things
Loyalty To The Character’s Own Demise
Being Too Trusting
Bad Fashion Sense (Yes, I Count This As A Flaw)
Bigotry (In All Its Forms)