Create Flaws for Your Main Characters


“Create Flaws for Your Main Characters” by Joan Y. Edwards

Your characters must be imperfect! Your main character must have a big flaw.  It’s okay for your main character to have more than one flaw.

Brainstorm your character with different types of flaws to help you decide which weakness creates the most havoc for him in his particular situation.

Flaw, according to the Google dictionary, is a mark, fault, or other imperfection that mars a substance or object. For example: The outlet store sold plates with flaws in them. Synonyms for flaw are defect, blemish, fault, imperfection, deficiency, weakness, weak spot/point/link, inadequacy, shortcoming, limitation, failing, or foible.

In 1993, to focus attention and resources to eliminate accidents and human error, Gordon Dupont, a worker in maintenance for Transport Canada developed the following Dirty Dozen list of causes for human mistakes at work:

  1. Lack of communication
  2. Distraction
  3. Lack of Resources
  4. Stress
  5. Complacency – a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, unaware of potential danger, defect, or the like.
  6. Lack of Teamwork
  7. Pressure (of deadline)
  8. Lack of Awareness
  9. Lack of Knowledge
  10. Fatigue
  11. Lack of Assertiveness-don’t feel free or not allowed to speak up
  12. Norms-the way you’ve always done it

These could cause life-changing situations for your main characters.


About 6 years ago, Pam Zollman told writers you have to hurt your “bunnies” (characters).  Oh my goodness! As a writer you may be a “Mother Hen or “Protective Father” and don’t want anything to happen to your little ones. However, to have a plot, to have a story at all, means that you must create something bad to happen to your main character. That’s bad, spelled and pronounced B-a-a-a-a-d. After the bad experience, watch him meet the challenge. I promise you that your character will meet any challenge you give him. He will make it out of the darkest corner. With your help, how can he fail?

To look at the dark side, the darkest corners of films, watch a few film noir from the 1940’s to late 1950’s. Film noir was usually in black and white. It may have been an American Detective or crime film that emphasized cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. It seemed to me that no character in a film noir ever reached the good side of human behavior. One person, the detective who solved the mystery, may have been the only one on the GOOD side. According to Fandor, the noir style has expressionism and realism with night scenarios, strong shadows, low-key lighting, dynamic compositions, hard-boiled dialogue, flashbacks, fragmented narratives, and fluid camera movements.

One of the many I’ve seen on AMC on television is Out of the Past (1947).

A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.

But it could have been one of many. Film Noir present a pretty bleak view of our world. Consider this pitch description of Blackout:

A down-and-out American visits London and meets a beautiful blonde who offers him a fortune to marry her. He quickly agrees but the next day he awakens in an artist’s studio covered with blood and his supposed father-in-law’s corpse!

Many times in life, the story behind the story is intriguing and goes to the dark side. For instance, the movie Captain Phillips (2013)

The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship hijacked in two hundred years.

Some of the men in the crew with Captain Phillips contend that Captain Phillips shouldn’t have taken them there in the first place and have claimed a lawsuit against the real Captain Phillips. Now that would make another good movie.

Reverse the usual for your characters. What if everyone in your story except one person was evil…not just one flaw, they had all flaws except for one good redeeming trait. See what kind of story you get.

For instance, there’s a robbery in town. Everyone helps the robber get away. Why? It’s sad to think about, but what if the world was that way. What if your character has people believing the best about him and they couldn’t believe he did it. He had charisma personified. But one character could see through all the songs and dances and convict the robber.

When you write a story, you get to create a world that might be hard to imagine…a sad, tragic, magic, or joyful world. But it’s your story with your main character with many flaws, three flaws, or only one flaw. A flaw is what gets him into trouble. A flaw is what gets him into the deeper depths of despair. Only when your character is brave and wise enough to see things differently is he able to think of a way out of his bottomless pit. You have a choice of a happy ending or an ending that you drape in the perils of tragedy.

I thought by looking at these 12 causes of mistakes and glancing at the dark side might help you decide which flaw is “perfect” for a character in your story to make him memorable.

Here are a few first sentence story-starters or character sketches:

  1. Everyone in his family for generations has been trustworthy. But not, Ned Parker.
  2. A leader needs good communication, but the President of the United States did not have good communication on the day when the people of Zamboo declared war.
  3. Everyone cringed to think that the airplane built by Forever Airlines had not had the suggested maintenance inspections and repairs. Whose fault was it that maintenance orders were not carried out? Who is going to pay for the deaths caused when Flight 513 went down on I-95?
  4. James couldn’t focus on his job as a taxi driver. He worried about his grandfather. He worried about his son in school. Most of all, he worried about his bank account. He didn’t notice the lady walking out from two parked cars.
  5. Teresa was unaware of the faulty electrical cord she used to turn on her hair dryer. She never checked her surroundings. She took it for granted that everything was going to be fine and that electrical outlets stay good for a lifetime.  The day her hair frizzed and the shock went through her body, was the day she became paranoid about safety.

Enjoy finding the perfect flaw that weakens your character to the point of almost losing faith in himself to get out of the current bad situation that is facing him.

Enjoy your writing!
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2014-2019 Joan Y. Edwards



8 thoughts on “Create Flaws for Your Main Characters”

  1. Hi Joan,
    Stands to reason that no one is perfect, yet we often defend our writing when we’re told that our main character is too perfect.

    Yes, we must give a flaw to our main character. Thinking on this made me realize, we even disagree on how to pronounce the thing all characters need–a flaw.

    Hope this brought a smile. And how do you pronounce “smile?”

    1. Dear Linda,
      It’s good to hear from you. I’m glad you saw my humor in creating a situation that is B-a-a-a-a-d for your character. Flaw is pronounced…aw like you don’t want to do something or like saw, like part of them has been cut off…just smidgeon of goodness is popped off and a little evil placed back in its place.

      Thanks for writing.

      Never Give Up

  2. Somehow I don’t have the problem of over-good characters. I think the reason is that the people in my book are always a cocktail of real people I’ve met… somewhere, some time. A man who was kind to me in my youth may be an unconscious part of an old lady who is kind to a teenager in the story I’m writing — and so will have his blemishes as well as the defining characteristic of kindness.


    1. Dear Dr. Bob,
      It’s good to hear from you. I am glad you don’t have overly good characters! That is awesome! I like how you pay tribute to people who were kind to you in life by putting a layer on a character to remind you of their kindness to you.

      Thank you for writing. Celebrate you and your writing.
      Never Give Up

    1. Dear Kathleen,
      Thank you for writing. It’s so good to hear from you. I’m glad you liked my film noir examples. You would love The Trouble with Harry a 1955 movie…a comedy film noir.

      You are very welcome.
      Celebrate you.
      Never Give UP

  3. Joan, I really like your post. Hester in my story about the life of a slave has many baaad things happen to her, however end results are good.

    1. Dear Maude,
      Thank you very much for writing. I’m glad that you liked my post.That’s good that you have the situation baad for Hester and then have the end results good. Awesome idea. Good luck with your writing!

      Celebrate each word.
      Never Give up

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