What Counts as a Character Flaw?

Characters need flaws.

This is something that writers hear over and over again. Nobody's perfect. If you want your characters to be realistic, they can't be perfect. (and by realistic, I mean their personalities, not their physical traits. Superhero horses are not realistic, but they can be realistic characters. Know what I mean?)

But sometimes, what counts as a flaw is a gray area.

You may have heard the term 'Mary Sue'. If a character is a Mary Sue, they are amazingly perfect, and incredibly good at everything (Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens is often classed as a Mary Sue). In other words, they have no real flaws.

But they often have 'flaws' that aren't really flaws at all. Such as ...

  • Being wary of strange and dangerous things (this is just called being sensible)
  • Being snarky (which just makes you like them even more)
  • Being rubbish at chess (or cards or tennis or some other game that has absolutely no relevance to the plot)
  • Being so beautiful that it's a curse (OK, seriously? Blegh)
And on and on and on.

So what really does count as a flaw? Well, it's things like ...

  • Personal insecurities ("I'm ugly" "I'm stupid" "I'm fat" "No one will ever love me" etc.)
  • Arrogance
  • Fear of failure/success/stepping out of their comfort zone/whatever else might hinder them in life
  • Inability to maintain a healthy relationship
  • Recklessness
  • Narcissism
  • Obsessing over stupid things
And so on.

One last thing to note: I wouldn't necessarily count something like a fear of heights as a character flaw. That isn't an internal problem; it's just a reaction to a person's surroundings. It's annoying, but not a flaw.

So how do you know if your character is sufficiently flawed? Beta readers! Get somebody to beta-read your story, and see if they think your character is flawed enough. If they say yes, then you're good to go. If not, well ... you know what to do.

What is your character's crippling flaw?

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