What sinks a book faster than flat characters? Fucking nothing, that’s what.
So, how do we stop characters being flat? We remind ourselves that they aren’t characters. They’re real, relatable people, with real and relatable flaws. But YE GODS! There are thousands of flaws to be given! Which are the best?
Before I give you my list, we need to go over some housekeeping:
There are three types of character flaws: minor, major, and fatal.
Minor flaws are mere imperfections that make the character memorable and easy to relate to, but that don’t really affect the plot.
Major flaws will affect the plot and really stop the character from getting what they want- these need to be overcome in order for the character arc to be fulfilled.
Fatal flaws (also known as hamartias) will bring a good character crashing down, in the best way. They will result in the death or utter ruination of a character (usually death).
Any flaw can fall into any of these three categories- it all depends on how you write them.
These are my personal picks for the top 5 flaws:
1- Lust: for people, for power, for almost anything. People always crave what they haven’t had enough of in the past. People who’ve been most powerless are those who grab the most when the opportunity strikes- to the detriment of others. Likewise, lusting over other people can blind us to their flaws and make us easy to manipulate- providing a very interesting and intimately compromising situation for your character.
2- Anxiety: maybe this is a bit of a hot topic choice, but these kinds of characters are often relatable- and they’re increasingly relevant. Who hasn’t been anxious about something in their life? More than a quarter of students have some kind of diagnosable anxiety disorder. And anxiety can effect any aspect of your life- so it can stick to any character, and any plot. The fact that it can take over every aspect of your life makes it all the more satisfying when your character overcomes it.
3- Tactlessness: it’s easy to get this one wrong. Tactlessness is not the same as thoughtlessness- someone can put a lot of thought into plans that just ultimately don’t work, which can get your reader invested in how the character will overcome this flaw.
4- Trust: the most interesting flaws are those that look like virtues, that can be virtues if written one way. But what happens when you trust too many people with a secret? It’s not a secret anymore. What happens if you trust the wrong person with a dagger? You find it later, lodged between your shoulder blades. Trust is a versatile thing, and in naturally trusting characters it can be hard to control.
5- Anything Physical: Physical flaws, when written correctly, can be the most devastating. This isn’t to say you can’t be happy if you’re in a wheelchair, or a one-legged girl can’t be a great tennis player, but odds are it’ll be hard for them to overcome their disability. These kinds of flaws can even be imagined- maybe the character thinks they’re ugly because they were treated like they were as a child, and that results in low confidence. Maybe their wicked stepmother has convinced them they cannot walk (okay, that one’s a bit stupid) and they have to convince themselves they can. Possibilities are endless and endlessly interesting, if written correctly and respectfully.
There are a thousand more flaws to be seen and explored with your writing. These are just some of my personal favourites. Tell me yours in the comments below!