Laura Haley-McNeil

2/23/30, Character Flaws


A couple of years ago, I attended a writer’s conference. where the speaker was well-known agent. He discussed several elements he looked for in a novel, one of which was character flaws, and that puzzled me. Why is a character  flawed?

Books I’ve Read

As I thought of the books that I’ve read, one of things that annoyed me was some of the flaws these characters had. It didn’t seem real to me. Abusive adults raised these characters, and a lot had lost their parents when they were young, and so had tragic pasts. These didn’t seem real to me.

A few years ago I read a book about characters  with tragic backgrounds, and I wasn’t sure how they got out of bed each morning. The heroine struggled through college, and she gave most of her money to her family. The hero had an idyllic life and his privilege made him guilt-ridden. The book received excellent reviews.

Subject Matter

The book was well written, but  with unappealing subject matter, and then I understood what the agent from that conference told the audience. A character’s flaws connect him to the reader. Books aren’t written for everyone, but readers gravitate toward a certain premise and this book fulfilled the premise these readers sought.

Character flaws put the character in a position where his past and/or his shortcomings keep him in a certain place, then something happens in his life, and he realizes that his flaws prevent him from obtaining what he wants. If he can’t move past his flaws, and solve his problem, he will lose something very important to him. How he overcomes these obstacles becomes the essence of the book.

Invest the Reader

The reader has to be invested enough in this character to care that the character can overcome the flaw and gain what has become the most important thing in his life.

Think about books and movies that have resonated with you, and why you cared if this character reached his goal. Do you care if the character overcame his obstacle?

Books and movies that make you feel are the ones you’ll remember, but writing is about the emotion you can evoke in the reader. If you can make the reader feel, you’ve done your job.

I hope you have a wonderful week and that it’s filled with great things that make you smile.