When crafting a story, writers are presented with a unique set of challenges. Your protagonist must be about to embark on a journey, whether a literal or emotional one. To get readers invested in that journey, it has to be significant and sympathetic–something that will catch readers attention on the first page and not let them go. Here’s an article on crafting the hero’s journey: Hero’s Journey – A Quick and Dirty Rundown. That’s a tall order, and putting your protagonist in a situation of intriguing conflict is one part of getting readers on board. The other part? Dazzling them with your characters.
Breathing Life into Your Character
One of the most important things a writer needs to accomplish is to create well-rounded, sympathetic characters. This doesn’t mean your readers need to agree with your character’s choices, believe them to be basically good people, or even really like them. Character likability is important, of course, but reader investment has far more to do with:
- Understanding character motivations
- Wanting to see how a character will react to the obstacles presented, given what the reader knows of them
- Reader interest in the character arc
One of the best ways that writers can approach this task of creating a fully-fleshed out character, then, is to make them feel and seem real to the readers. In order for that to work, your characters must have flaws.
Types of Character Flaws
All of the most memorable of characters in the literary world have flaws. Sherlock Holmes? Huge narcissist lacking social skills. Jay Gatsby? Obsessed with a married woman. Elizabeth Bennett? Proud and prejudiced. Sometimes, the entire journey of these characters is centered around the manner in which they overcome their flaws, such is the case with Elizabeth Bennett. Other times, the protagonist’s flaw leads to their downfall—which is exactly what happens to poor Jay Gatsby.
Though those are both interesting ways of handling character flaws, it’s also possible to simply use the character flaw as a means to keep the character “less than perfect.” Would Sherlock Holmes be as interesting, for example, if in addition to being brilliant and astute, he was also extremely well-liked and the toast of London? It makes Holmes more interesting that he butts heads with the people he interacts with, including his partner, Watson. Sherlock’s flaws, though, don’t usually get in the way of him being able to accomplish his goals.
Recapping: The Importance of Flaws
So, to recap, there are a few different ways to introduce flaws into character:
- Serious, character arc-altering flaws which interplay with entire plot but characters are able to overcome.
- Life-controlling, tragic flaws which eventually lead to the character’s doom.
- Minor flaws that more fully round-out a character (but do not not positively or negatively impact the character arc) but serve to make the character more human.
All of these types of flaws can be useful for making your characters more realistic and interesting to your readers. Much as writers may be tempted to avoid giving their characters negative traits in order increase character likability, the irony ends up being that flaws can be the key to making characters come to life. Without these negative traits, characters will be flat and unlikable because of their unattainable perfection. So don’t shy away from flaws. They may just be what your characters need to shine.