Don't Forget the Flaws! (Penny Rader)

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand perfect people. Or perfect characters. Why? Perfect people remind me just how imperfect I am and perfect characters are, well, boring. Flawed characters are so much more interesting. They learn and grow over the course of the story.

This is what Connie Flynn has to say in Building Three-Dimensional Characters: Give your central characters a fatal flaw. While greed, envy, vanity and the rest of the seven deadly sins are perfect flaws for villains, virtues carried to extreme usually works best for protagonists. For instance, a nurturing nature can become controlling or smothering. A lighthearted attitude can become irresponsibility. If a more deadly flaw is chosen, it must be well motivated. In the villain, this flaw is a vice carried to extremes. In both cases, the fatal flaw is the trait that has the potential to bring about the character's downfall.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell has a terrific article you might want to read, Creating Your Hero's Fatal Flaw. She uses the personality typing called enneagrams. There are nine of them and each one has a fatal flaw built into it. Check out her workshop:

Here are a few more articles you might find helpful:The Fatal Flaw – The Most Essential Element for Bringing Characters to Life by Dara Marks

Being, Doing, Becoming: The Heroic Strength, the Heroic Flaw, the Heroic Journey by Alicia Rasley

Flawed Characters and Why We Love Them by Kris Cramer

Fiction Writing: Flaw Your Character by a guy named Harry

Not sure how to go about deciding what your character’s flaw is? Try this exercise from Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass:

Step 1: What is your protagonist’s defining quality; that is, how would anyone describe your protagonist. What trait is most prominent in his personality? What kind of person is she?

Step 2: Objectively speaking, what is the opposite of that quality?

So, who are your favorite flawed characters? Do you have any tips for creating them?


Tanya Hanson said...

Hi! Great blog. I think my favorite flawed character is Scarlett O'Hara. Way ahead of her time LOL.

I think I give characters a touch of my own flaws, not that confident, dorky even. They may not appear that way to others but that's how they feel.


Rox Delaney said...

Flawed characters come easy for me, probably because I have more flaws than they do!

My own recent flawed heroes include a happy-go-lucky bull rider whose multiple concussions could lead to some bad stuff, including possible death. But he won't give up and believes if anything happens to him, it won't affect anyone. Wrong. He also has no goals except to keep on riding. Not too good for a heroine who has her life mapped out and strives to reach the goals she's set. (Bachelor Cowboy, which suits him to a T!)

I'm currently working on Morgan's Pride (working title) and am having a bear of a time. Maybe he's too flawed? He's definitely too honorable. Here's hoping he can figure that out in the last 4 scenes or we won't have an HEA!

You're right, Penny, it's those "good" attributes that can really gunk up the works. :)

Skhye said...

Great resources! I'm going to tell some folks to come check this out. Then I won't have to blog about it. LOLLLLO

Emma Lai said...

Very valuable information! I definitely give my heroines some of my own flaws...namely insecurity over one thing or another. The heroes tend to be just a tad too arrogant, but that's how I love my men!

Rox Delaney said...

Nothing wrong with arrogant, Emma! It makes for some really good character growth by the end of the story.

I like heroes that are "stinkers". That's Kathie DeNosky's term for a lovable charmer. They have to be fun and funny, but deep inside they carry some baggage they don't even know they have. Footloose and fancy free...until they meet the right woman. (grin)

At the other end of the spectrum, I like tortured heroes aka wounded heroes. There's nothing like a little variety! I have to admit I tend to have "rescuers" for heroes, even when the heroine doesn't need rescuing! LOL I guess there's a bit of arrogance to that.

Rox Delaney said...

Penny, you mentioned the enneagrams. Way back when, I remember using those. And then I just remembered that I picked up the original book at the Art & Book Fair last year. I need to dig that out and take a look at it!

Great links! It never hurts to dig deeper into a character to learn more about who he/she is and why. It makes for great motivation for that goal and conflict!

And I must have a thing for !!!! today.

snwriter52 said...

Characters, make unforgetable stories. Without a defined character, your story is lifeless. One of my favoirte research books is "Creating Unforgettable Characters" by Linda Seger.
Penny great websites. Thank you for sharing.

Rox Delaney said...

I'm sure there are some who will disagree with me, but in my very humble opinion, Stephen King is a master at characterization. I noticed it the most when reading The Stand for the first time, years and years ago. Each chapter switches POV, but in one or two sentences, I knew which character it was without being told.

Another book to re-read, and maybe I can figure out how he does it. I'm not betting that will happen though. Only beating me over the head with a hammer nets results with some things.

Mary Ricksen said...

I think that flaws make our characters human, and so more believable.
Using our own flaws is probably good for a better read. We can explain them so well.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Tanya!

I definitely get the lack of confidence thing and I'm more apt to use it with a heroine than a hero. One of my daughters calls me a dork, but I don't think I've passed on dork qualities to a character. Yet. (grin)

Penny Rader said...

Hi Rox. Has your bachelor cowboy book been released yet? Sounds like a great story.

And I get the honorable thing. Derek, the hero of Sapphire and Gold, suffers from responsibility issues.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Skyhe! By all means, invite people to join us. The more the merrier. (grin)

Penny Rader said...

Welcome, Emma. Insecurity is definitely one of my flaws. Do you suppose insecurity and lack of confidence go hand in hand?

I like a touch of arrogance in heroes. In real life guys, no. Heroes, yes, because they can usually be tamed a bit by their heroine.

Penny Rader said...

LOL, Rox, on the 'stinkers' heroes. I love heroes who are a bit tortured and are rescuers. I tried for that with Derek. The hero of the book I'm reading now also shares those characteristics. Baby Love by Catherine Anderson. Great story. Wonderfully flawed hero and heroine. Tremendous conflict.

Penny Rader said...

Rox, I love personality typing books for developing characters. I don't have an enneagram book yet.

I'm probably going to mess up the title, but Linda Goodman's Love Signs can also be quite helpful in developing characters. I need to find my copy. I'm pretty sure it gives positive and negative traits for individuals and also gives suggestions for how couples might interact.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Sharon! Thanks for sharing the title of the Seger book. I don't think I've read it.

Penny Rader said...

I haven't read Stephen King, Rox, but my son has several of his books. Looks like I'll be raiding his bookshelf. (grin)

Penny Rader said...

Thanks, Mary. It certainly makes sense that we'd feel comfortable giving characters our own flaws. Maybe by watching our characters work through these flaws, we can help ourselves. (grin)

Rox Delaney said...

Penny, I'll loan you my enneagram book as soon as I find it. Maybe by next meeting?

Love Signs is good. So are the Mars/Venus books. I have another horoscope book that focuses on guys only, but I can't remember the title and don't have a clue where it is. This is what happens when you switch rooms twice and then switch within a room again. LOL

Rox Delaney said...

Start with The Stand, Penny. It's his most popular book. If son has the unabridged version, it's the best, although loooong. It's worth the read. Sabrina reads it and GWTW every year.

Rox Delaney said...

Bachelor Cowboy will be out in January next year. I just finished copyedits on it last week. It's the second book of a series set in Desperation, Oklahoma.

The first, The Rodeo Rider comes out next month. The hero of book 2 is introduced in book 1, so readers can get a glimpse of him. Kathie D would call him a stinker. (grin) Just a bit on the cocky side. ;)

I'm waiting to get my copy of Sapphire and Gold at the book signing in August. ;)

Helen Hardt said...

I'm a day late, sorry! Great post, Penny. Like a lot of the others, I often give my heroines my own flaws, which helps me really dig deep into their POV.

My son's a big Stephen King fan. I'll have to pick up The Stand.

Deborah said...

Great post. And yes, Scarlett does come to mind (although I know Pat hates that character). But Rhet is also a great flawed hero. He is a perfect match to her spoiled determination. The strengths and weaknesses compliment each other. And that's why we agree with Scarlett at the end. She will win him back because after all, tomorrow is another day. The last line of the book lets the reader know that her optomism will win out. It is a message of hope.

Let's face it, flawed characters are just more interesting.

Rox Delaney said...

True about Scarlett. Tanya is right. Scarlett was way ahead of her time. We'd now see Scarlett as a strong, independent woman who did whatever was necessary to keep the land/Tara. Honorable to a fault.

As for Rhett, yes, flawed just as much as Scarlett, but in different ways. A true hero though.

We didn't get a real HEA with GWTW, but we knew it was coming. I must admit I was very disappoited in Alexandra Whats-Her-Name's sequeal, Scarlett It dragged in too many places for me. I guess the Irish history was interesting for some, but it bogged down the story, IMHO. But in the end, Scarlett and Rhett did find their HEA. I'm not sure Margaret Mitchell would agree with how it played out. But, hey, what do I know?

It all comes down to the S word=SUBJECTIVE.

Rox Delaney said...

I meant to welcome our visitors and thank you all for your great input!!

So Tanya, Skhye, Emma, Mary, Helen, and our own Deborah, thanks for stopping by and sharing! You each add a new dimension to the discussion, and we enjoy having you with us.

Penny Rader said...

I checked my son's shelf. He doesn't have The Stand, but he does have a b-day this month. (wink)

Penny Rader said...

Oops! I missed Helen and Deborah. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your insights.

Starla Kaye said...

Excellent blog and reference articles. Thank you.

jammer5 said...

Flawed's the fun part. I pick people I know/knew and use their flaws, as well as my own, in the characters I'm building. It's what I've done in the short stories I've written.

What I am finding difficult is being careful to not intermingle both the characters and their flaws. There are many characters in the piece I'm working on, so I have to write a basic outline of each and refer to it all the time. I guess the secret is to really get to know them. The worst thing I can think of is making them all sound the same. Boring.

Rox Delaney said...

Hi, Jammer! Thanks for stopping by!

Most people think writing a book is easy. Those of us who do know better. :) It can be fun, it can be torture, but in the end there's satisfaction.

Good luck with your characters and their flaws! That's what makes them human.

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for visiting, Jammer! It is tough to make each character an individual, isn't it? I agree that getting to know your characters really well is key so they have their own voices as well as become real to both the writer and the reader.