Character Flaws

  Simplistically, a Character Flaw is what keeps your character from moving on. You, the author, have them figure out this flaw isn’t working for them. They make the change and this becomes the character arc. I feel a character’s flaw draws me into their world.

Phew! I’m a little nervous talking about this because it’s a subject I struggle with. If I don’t get something right, I’m hoping my sisters with jump in and help.

Do characters need flaws? I say a big YES!

When I begin developing a character, they are perfect. Pluperfect in fact. Then I begin adding in little flaws and fears here and there. It took me a while to realize this is how I want my readers to see the characters. Tough, brilliant, and fearless in the beginning. As the reader gets to know the character, just as you get to know a friend, they begin to learn the character’s flaws.

The heroine in Point of No Return is a marine. The opening scene lets the reader know she is tough, brilliant, and fearless. Later, I reveal one of her flaws.  She HATES being in helicopters. I slowly reveal her other issues. Her character arc is subtle.  This is my style, my voice.
Some authors let you know on the first page what the characters flaws are and they are ginormous. The characters have a difficult journey to overcome and succeed.

I think I use subtle flaws because I don’t have the talent to bring a character to major changes by the end of the book achieving that satisfactory ending.

And BTW, I MUST have some kind of satisfactory ending to make the book enjoyable for me, no matter the genre. Not necessarily a ride off into the sunset HEA ending. I want to know the character has grown, learned, between the words Chapter One and The End.

So now, let’s talk about what flaws can be. For me, there are straight emotional (internal) ones that come from misguided beliefs, and physical flaws. Physical flaws come with emotional ones built in. And, this is something I’m toying with so bear with me, the flaws (emotional and physical) of one character can create the character arc of another.

The bad boy who comes from the wrong side of the tracks, never had any breaks and does nothing right until he meets and falls in love with the heroine. Or, reverse the genders.

I feel the younger the character, the more they have to learn and the more flaw possibilities. Consider the cattle baron’s only child, a daughter, comes home from her first semester of college and announces she is now vegetarian and the family are murderers. What’s her flaw?  She’s immature and wants to fit in with her college boy friend’s group who are anti everything. She’ll have to decide on family (and their financial support) or her newfound college friends. Her character arc would be gaining the maturity to make her own decisions.  Will she run the empire or start a chain of vegetarian restaurants?

For an older protagonist it’s different. A protag over 40 who is comfortable with who they are can say, “Yeah I make mistakes. Get over it.” I’ll use Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch as an example. In this series of 18 books he is now an older LAPD detective. In the beginning of his career, Harry made mistakes. He pissed people off. Especially the corrupt ones. He cut corners. Not for personal benefit but to get the bad guy. He was ostracized and other detectives didn’t want to work with him. His personal life wasn’t so hot. Failed relationships. He drinks and smokes too much. Tried to quit but it didn’t take. Now he’s sorta the senior statesman of the department. People trust his opinion. Has he changed from the early days?  No. People have accepted him and now respect him for standing up the corrupt officials. Connelly has made his flaws work for him. This goes against the norm.

A woman in her late 30s in a bad marriage. She is bogged down with flaws stemming from why she stays. She doesn’t want her society friends to think her life isn’t perfect. Her daddy will disown her. She is terrified to be alone. She realizes she loves her husband doesn’t want to lose him but doesn’t know how to fix the marriage. All of these flaws make for a huge character arc.

A star college quarterback loses three fingers on his right hand in a tragic accident.  NFL chances are dashed. He chases off the woman he loves because he thinks no one can love him and he’ll never be able to succeed. He spirals into a deep funk. Curmudgeon father takes him out behind the woodshed so to speak and tells him to get over it. Learn to use his left hand. It turns out he is way better using his left hand at both football and baseball. Gets recruited for both.

A 22-year-old marine comes from an alcoholic family. He believes he is doomed to the same fate so why fight it?  He drinks. A lot. He’s about to be kicked out of the Corps for his conduct.  On leave in Manila, he goes on a seven day, black out bender.  When he wakes, he discovers a tattoo on his privates he can’t remember getting. That scares him sober. He becomes a model marine and on the battlefield saves the life of the man who will bring peace to the world. He also makes a fortune on bets he has that tat.

One character’s flaws creating the character arc for others:
Go back to the case of the college QB.  To help, his brother, a robotics engineer and sister, a nurse practitioner in orthopedics, develop a prosthetic that revolutionizes the industry.

The child of the world’s greatest opera singer is born deaf.




Be careful not to give your characters so many flaws they are unlikeable and unredeemable.

Please share examples of flaws you’ve used. Or, if you’ve read Point of No Return and the free prequel No Holding Back, tell me what you think Honey’s flaws are.

BTW portions of the examples I’ve given are true. Can you figure which ones?

This concludes the ramblings of a flawed author.

Rita’s recent books are Point of No Return and No Holding Back available where ever fine ebooks are sold.


30 responses to “Character Flaws”

  1. jbrayweber says:

    Great blog, Rita!

    Some of my pirates’ and heroines’ flaws include alcoholism, addiction to laudanum, control issues, anger issues, incessant chattering (the hero thought this was a flaw, anyway)among others. I’ve toyed with a physical issue, but as I write historical, I haven’t found a way to incorporate it…yet. Like you mentioned, I had one character’s flaw work in favor for her, getting her out of more than one pickle.

    Character’s without flaws are flat and mostly unbelievable. I don’t know one person who doesn’t have a flaw, and most are doozies. LOL!


    • Rita Henuber says:

      Wow! Your character have got it going on with their flaws. I think using physical flaws in historical would be doable. People looked down on physical flaws in those days. Would sure give a character some angst.

  2. Fabulous post, Rita! Love your examples.

    In my last book, Don’t Break My Heart, my Latino hero’s flaw was the chip on his shoulder about prejudice that was put there by the heroine’s father sixteen years earlier. He’s saddled with the misguided belief that the heroine left him because her father wouldn’t accept him.

  3. Great post, Rita. You’re right. Perfect characters are soooo boring, but my characters are all uber-perfect and I have to de-perfect them.

    Again, wonderful post. It’s got me thinking about my WIP.


  4. Vivi Andrews says:

    “Pluperfect.” *Snort* Love it.

    Great post, Rita. So true that perfect is boring, but we’ve got to exercise caution. I think one of the best tips I’ve ever gotten on flaws came from the great Darynda Jones. I’m going to paraphrase because I don’t recall exactly how she said it, but it was something about making your readers fall in love with your characters before you hit them with the flaws… that way even the big flaws don’t seem unredeemable because we’re invested already.

    It’s like building a relationship between your reader and your character – you don’t want to hit them with the potential deal-breakers on the first date! 🙂

  5. Liz Talley says:

    Fabulous topic, Rita.

    I’ve said it here before and I’m not afraid to beat a dead horse, but perfect is not realistic, and I like realism in my writing. Cold, hard truth is a great antagonizer in a plot. Having flawed characters allows for 1. growth and 2. plot propellation (that’s not a word, but you know what I mean – to propel the plot along). Those are two good reasons your characters need to be immature or stubborn or prideful or indecisive or screwed up in some way that makes them HUMAN.

    In my last book, I got dinged a lot because people didn’t like my heroine. She made one reader feel stabby and another want to slap her. Yeah. Well, Tess wasn’t a bad person in the book, she was merely a bit spoiled. She’d had every thing in life she wanted given to her (mostly by her daddy) and so when she didn’t get what she thought she deserved, she made a mess of things. That’s what humans do. We screw up and like a snowball rolling down a hill, it gets bigger and worse until we learn our lesson and take the power back. I can’t apologize for writing Tess the way I did even if she made the reader want to slap her silly. She was who she was. Or is who she is.

    So, yeah, I <3 characters who challenge me as a reader.

    Good topic!

    • Rita Henuber says:

      *growth and plot propellation*
      This is why I read and love romance. Too many ‘literary’ books have the characters droning on about how bad their lives are and they NEVER change. How easy it would be to write a book like that! I don’t mind not liking a character in the beginning if the author can make me like them by the end. THAT’s hard.

  6. Great post, Rita! Since I was a counselor in a former life, I LOVE tormenting my characters with their emotional or wrong-thinking flaws. Or throwing something at them that will really make them grow.

    I have a heroine who is a psychologist, but was traumatized and suffers panic attacks. She’s tormented by a killer who is determined to help teach her a lesson.

    Another heroine believes men will hurt her eventually, so she’s in a constant push-and-pull with her attraction to the hero.

    My latest heroine has a gift of psychometry, but has learned it’s more of a curse because people don’t trust her. She no longer trusts herself or her gift. The hero in that book, of course, believes in science and technology. He doesn’t trust feelings as a way of determining a course of action. They’re going to bang heads a lot. 😉

    A lot of my character flaws can be overcome with lessons in trust. I’ve come to find that trust is the theme in a lot of my books.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Trust, to some degree, is in every story I write. The psychomety is a brilliant gift/flaw. So many ways to use it. I don’t think I could write it but will love reading it. One day I want to know what prompted you using it. What springs into our minds and how we develop the story always fascinates me. Have you considered using the ability to smell sound and hear color? Sounds crazy but people do have the ability. Can’t remember the word for it and it I could probably couldn’t spell it.

  7. Gwyn says:

    The bets on the tat cracked me up so badly I’m still chuckling—and I’m betting that one’s true!

    I have one hero who’s so righteous (not self-righteous, but follow the rules, gotta save the world righteous) getting him to bend or look outside the box is a battle. When confronted with a heroine who’s very existence defies the rules, he’s hung out to dry well outside of his comfort zone.

    Another hero lives for revenge. His focus is so narrow, he’s a real pain to redeem.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      I LOVE it when these powerful heroes are undone by a woman. Revenge is a soul and blood sucking drain. It will be interesting to hear how he grows.
      Gwyn if you had money on which examples are true, you’d be raking in the cash. BTW it’s a fly on the very end.

  8. Elise Hayes says:

    In my (long-lived) struggle to find the opening to my almost-finished-wip, I’ve tried lots and lots of possible openings. I think I’ve finally got it right, though–and I’m starting with my heroine’s flaw (an earlier trauma that has led her to letting her family shelter and protect her, to the degree that even going outside alone is terrifying for her)–and her facing of it, since you first see her taking tentative steps down the stairs from her sisters’ lodgings and out into the town’s street. I’m hoping that the combo of her flaw and her visible determination to overcome it will “hook” readers 🙂

    Great post, Rita!

    (And, ok, can I just say that I loved the bit about the hero inviting bets on the tat?)

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Elise, I struggle with openings big time. I love your opening showing the flaw and her determination to grow right off the bat. The readers know the ride they’re about to go on. T think it’s a great hook. I’m doing something similar with my WIP. It starts.
      “If Hunter knew anything, it was self-control. Self-control was the primary rule of life. Be in control of yourself. If you weren’t, someone else would be.”
      The heroine completely undoes him.
      The tat in Manila and bet thing is true.

  9. Kim Law says:

    Rita, such terrific examples of flaws. Just reading through them, my mind took off on a number of stories that I could create. I think I might have to start coming to you when I get stuck 🙂

    Most of my characters’ flaws tend to be emotional. Too proud, etc. But you’ve definitely given me the desire to chop of someone’s hand and make them deal with it 😉

    Great post.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      We can talk any time. I’ve seen some crazy stuff. I feel like flaws come in a lot of different packages. As authors we can unwrap them in as many different ways.
      The example about getting fingers blown off is true except he was in HS and was being recruited for college teams. It happened in late spring junior year and he completed his senior year as the team QB. He pitched college baseball. He is one of 13 children. The part about his sister and brother working on a prosthetic is also true.

  10. Elisa Beatty says:

    Great post, Rita! It’s really true that without flaws, characters have no “umph” at all. Who can relate to perfect people?

    My characters tend to be really smart and capable, but have trouble opening themselves up for a variety of reasons–they’ve been hurt, or they’re afraid to depend on someone else, or afraid to trust. Difficulty with vulnerability, I guess you could call it.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Thanks. Yes. When you’ve been hurt deeply you have no desire to be hurt like that again. As my current hero says.”It takes courage to love and even more courage to let someone love you.”


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