Character Flaws: Adding Depth to Your Characters

The protagonist of your novel is your hero. He’s capable, strong, and brave. He’s ready to conquer the enemy at any cost. He shall be victorious!  

Now realize this: your hero has flaws.

The Negative Trait Thesaurus defines a flaw as “a self-focused trait that does not take into account the well-being of others, damages or minimizes relationships, and holds the character back in some way (denying self-growth).”

Below are two lists of character flaws (physical traits and personality traits). It’s not structured as parallel as I’d prefer, but the point is to get you brainstorming.

Remember: these flaws are meant to inconvenience or inhibit the character. Any author could just say, “This character has blonde hair and blue eyes. Narf. I’m done.” You’re not going to do that. You’re going to create unique flaws for your characters.

Physical Flaws:
These are usually minor flaws—ones that the character has accepted as being part of him—that inconvenience him or others. Note that not every flaw will inconvenience your character, though; they’re there to add depth to the character.  

For example, cracking one’s knuckles probably won’t inconvenience anyone; however, asthma could inconvenience the protagonist when he’s trying to chase the antagonist down the street. 

  • Allergies (lactose intolerance; outdoor allergies; bee sting)
  • Annoying habits (cracking knuckles; chewing loudly)
  • Asthma
  • Bad teeth
  • Blindness
  • Clumsiness
  • Deafness
  • Dyslexia
  • Hair loss
  • High/low blood sugar
  • Limp
  • Missing limb
  • Muteness
  • Scars
  • Sleep apnea
  • Smelly
  • Squeaky voice
  • Strange mannerisms (slurping; verbal clutter; interrupting others)
  • Strange-looking birthmark

Personality Flaws:
Personality traits are major flaws that inhibit the character from defeating the villain. These life-altering flaws usually result from a biased opinion due to a painful life experience. His ideals are skewed, and these traits are going to stop him from accomplishing his goals. As the author, you can choose whether or not he overcomes these flaws. 

  • Absentminded
  • Abusive
  • Bigoted
  • Blunt
  • Co-dependent
  • Conceited
  • Condescending
  • Controlling
  • Disagreeable
  • Dramatic
  • Egocentric
  • Forgetful
  • Greedy
  • Gullible
  • Ignorant
  • Impatient
  • Indecisive
  • Lazy
  • Manipulative
  • Moody
  • Nervous
  • Nosey
  • Paranoid
  • Pessimistic
  • Power hungry
  • Prejudiced
  • Pretentious
  • Reckless
  • Self-righteous
  • Selfish
  • Short-sighted
  • Skeptic
  • Snobby
  • Socially awkward
  • Spoiled
  • Taciturn

Your characters need flaws to be realistic and to create tension. Make your characters complex. Give them problems. Make them distinct from one another. There are some flaws they’ll overcome, while others will just be a part of whom they are.

What flaws do your characters have?