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Back to Basics: Flawed Characters

For this Back to Basics mini-course, we’re talking about flawed characters. Each Back to Basics course includes a challenge at the end to help you experiment. Let’s look at the basics.

Are flaws a good thing? I wouldn’t blame you if you said no. It can be very hard to see any value in them. By definition, they’re things that are wrong with us. Some flaws can be small but others can be huge. It’s difficult to think of something like a flaw as anything but negative. Yet flaws do have some value to them, because we can learn from them. Characters in stories also have opportunities to learn from their flaws. Flaws are an important aspect of writing since they are a useful way to add some layers to your characters. In this Back to Basics blog, we’ll discuss writing flawed characters.

#1: Keep flaws relatable

Flaws help to remind readers that characters aren’t perfect. It’s important for a flaw (minor or major) to be something that the audience can relate to in some way. For example:

John Doe often daydreams in class instead of paying attention to his lesson.

The flaw here is John Doe’s absentmindedness. While the flaw is more of a minor one, it’s something that many can relate to, and one that could have consequences for John later such as impacting his grades.


#2: Incorporate both minor flaws and major flaws

This information comes from Storyflint. While a lot of minor flaws that make up a character is fine, you'll also want to have at least one major flaw. Where minor flaws are more of those bad habits or quirks a character might have(like John’s absentmindedness from our first example), major flaws help to define a character and create challenges for them. It’s also a great idea to align those minor flaws with the major flaw.

Here’s an example of this from Storyflint, “if your character's major flaw is that they're always late, then their minor flaws might be that they're bad at keeping track of time or they get easily sidetracked. By figuring out both a major and minor flaw, you'll have a better understanding of what makes your character tick.”


#3: Major flaws must impact the characters in meaningful ways

Major flaws are the most important flaws a character has. This is especially true for major characters such as your protagonists. Well-Storied’s article on how to write character flaws has some good insight: “If you want to develop genuine, impactful flaws for your story’s characters, begin by considering their journeys. It’s okay if you don’t know all the details just yet. So long as you know where your characters’ stories will begin and where you want them to end, you can craft a flaw that will create or fuel the major internal and/or external conflicts they’ll experience.” The article also mentions some examples for this such as: If a character is trying to find love, their flaw could be them thinking they aren’t deserving of it. A major flaw should impact how the character thinks and acts and affect his relationships with others.

Let’s go back to John Doe and switch it up now with a completely new example:

John’s major flaw is that he has severe anger issues and lashes out at people, he finally goes too far though in an argument with his brother and ends up straining his relationships with his family, forcing him to reconsider what he’s done.

John’s relationship to his family has now been drastically impacted by his major flaw(his rage), and now, he must evaluate what he’s done. A character needing to evaluate what they’ve done because of their flaw also ties neatly into the last rule.


#4: Make sure the characters have room to grow

I mentioned in the beginning that flaws do have value because we learn from them. It’s important to make sure that characters learn from their flaws. Flaws not only flesh characters out more but also give them opportunities for character development. If John Doe starts out angry, he could go through a character arc where, by the end, he learns how to properly manage his anger. Or if another character’s major flaw is that they’re afraid of public speaking, by the end they can learn to be able to speak loudly and confidently in a room brimming with people. As Storyflint also mentions, “In other words, they are not static characters. They are dynamic characters. They evolve over time and learn from their mistakes.”

So to summarize, writing characters with flaws is important because it helps keep them relatable to readers, impacts characters in meaningful ways, and also gives opportunities for them to develop and become better people. Now that we’ve discussed writing flawed characters, it’s time to try the challenge.

The Challenge:

Create a short character profile. Include their name, age, family, skills, etc. Then, create at least three minor flaws and one major flaw for the character. Explain how those flaws impact the character and how they will overcome them.

Stick to 500-1500 words for this one.

Thanks for joining us for this Back to Basics course. If you tried this month’s challenge, you can share it on our forum or on social media using #WWB2B. You can also send us your challenge for feedback as soon as possible, via dropbox on our Back to Basics page. A special thanks to Jen for assisting with the research for this month’s topic. Thank you, and I will see you all next time!


About the author: Izhan Arif is a Teaching of English major at UIC who loves to write in his spare time. Izhan is also a very big fan of comic books and comic book TV shows and movies, he hopes to write his own comic books at some point as well.

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