Perfectly Flawed: Creating Imperfect Characters

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Flaws are a cornerstone of great storytelling. They make characters more accessible, and they make the world you depict far more realistic. The complications they add make your character’s path tougher and the conclusion more rewarding. How do you integrate the perfect flaws, though?

Do Some Soul Searching

The flaws we know best are the ones we contend with every day. They say write what you know, right? Often, writers’ frustrations, worries, and struggles make it to the page regardless of whether or not they intended to write about them. Take advantage of your own flaws and put them to work for you. Do you lie to get out of uncomfortable situations? Have you ever dealt with any kind of addiction? Maybe you don’t feel as strongly about someone as you’re supposed to. Whatever you deal with, give it a chance to propel your character to the next level. It’s nice to benefit from your own flaws for a change, right?

Consider Flaws that Hamper Your Character’s Progress

Ultimately, stories always come down to desires and obstacles. If your character suffers from a flaw that provides a stumbling block to their success, then you have found a masterful way to blend character development with plot progression. Story elements that serve more than a single purpose carry a greater weight and leave a much bigger impact in the reader’s imagination, and this is a simple way to add some complexity to your story. A clichéd example is the hero going on a dangerous quest who deals with cowardice or self doubt. On the other hand, you have Tolkien’s hobbits. Their innocence – one of their greatest assets against the power of the Ring – also lands them in trouble on more than one occasion. Boromir’s desire to save his city ultimately corrupts his goals entirely. Even good qualities can become flaws in the right conditions.

Give Context

Where do flaws come from? This is a job for backstory! You don’t have to lead your reader by the hand through your character’s entire history, but give some kind of background that might generate the flaws that haunt them throughout the story. Remember, flaws can come from positive life experiences, not just tragedies. A happy family life can make someone too trusting. Your character may be slightly overconfident thanks to a lot of talent in a different area. Maybe your character gives up on things they don’t immediately excel at. Flaws don’t always have to be big to make a big impact in your story, and they may rise from the most innocent background.

Add Some Variety

Your story will probably have more than one character. An important part of writing a flawed character is to give them other flawed characters to interact with. No one is perfect, after all. Your primary character can (and probably should) have multiple flaws as well. Game of Thrones demonstrates this concept very well. Even the people you cheer for have their issues, and sometimes those issues are the key to their undoing.

What flaws suit your characters, theme, and plot? Can you pull on your own personal experiences to add depth and understanding to complex issues? Flaws are opportunities for storytellers to stretch themselves and improve their craft. Don’t be afraid to get a little messy.

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