Creating Flawed Characters

old character

This man I photographed in Madison, Wisconsin would make a great character. What’s his story?

Which comes first, the character or the plot? For me, that’s an easy question to answer. There are so many characters roaming around inside my head that I would have to admit characters are my first love in fiction writing. And from my characters, my plot evolves. All I need to do is put my characters in difficult situations and watch them work their way out and—voila!—instant plot.

Even so, many writers love their characters a little too much, a writing crime of which I’ve certainly been guilty. It’s painful to watch a character you’ve developed, someone you feel a genuine fondness for, suffer. Yet your characters have to run into some trouble if you’re going to tell a good story. And above all, they must be flawed. Give your characters flaws, especially those that prevent them from reaching a pivotal goal, and watch the sparks fly. We can think of many examples of such conflicts:

  • A teacher whose timid nature prevents her from disciplining her class
  • A teenager who stutters and is so self-conscious he drives away potential friends with his caustic attitude
  • A grown man who can’t stop lying and loses friends and lovers when his lies are uncovered

All these characters will have some redeeming traits – while we don’t necessarily need to love them, we do need to identify with them somehow – but it’s the flaws that make them multi-dimensional. Continue reading