What is Your Character’s Fatal Flaw?

Books

 

If you look at great characters in literature, they each have a flaw which drives the plot forward. I strongly believe that one of the most important pieces of advice for writing a character is to give them a “fatal” flaw.

So I’ve taken it upon myself to break down a few popular reads in terms of main characters and their “fatal” flaws. Note that “fatal” does not mean a flaw which leads to the character’s death–in fact, none of the characters I am going to mention die in the pages of their books.

Rather, fatal flaws are those character flaws the character exhibits which creates drama for the character and entertainment for the reader. This flaw gets them into sticky situations or makes them lose what they hold dear. It can make them face physical death or emotional death. It intertwines with the plot so closely that to change that fatal flaw would be to change the entire story.

Pride & Prejudice: Lizzy is prejudiced against the wealthy. Mr. Darcy is proud about his reputation.

Harry Potter: Harry has a “saving people thing.” Hermione is an “insufferable know-it-all.” Ron can be “rather cruel.”

The Hunger Games: Katniss is untrusting. Peeta is loyal. Gale is unforgiving.

The Count of Monte Cristo: Edmund cannot eradicate love in his life.

As people, we each have our own “fatal” flaw.

A fatal flaw doesn’t mean that it will ultimately lead to our death, but this is a flaw that makes living our lives more difficult.

However, note that the “fatal” flaw for the sake of our plots does not have to be a negative character trait!

Consider the flaws above:

Pride in reputation, saving people thing, loyalty, love…none of those really sound like “flaws.” In fact, taking pride in your reputation could be a good thing, saving people usually sounds like a good thing too. Loyalty? I consider loyalty a pretty good thing–as long as there’s a good reason for it. But love? Isn’t love always a good thing?

Arguably, yes. However, if you look at the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo (one of the best, most intricate plots ever written if you ask me), you find that love is the one thing that can prevent Edmund from accomplishing his goal.

As Edmund’s grand finale of revenge approaches its climax, he is faced with the love of his life. She is the only one who can prevent him from ruining the lives of everyone who wronged him–including, he believes, her. So what is he to do when he realizes that she didn’t wrong him–but that she still loves him? He must either abandon his entire plan for revenge and reveal himself to her, or rise above his fatal flaw of love and carry out his revenge as planned.

In Harry Potter, Harry is repeatedly lured into situations where others are at risk. If he were to stay put and let the adults handle things, as most other characters would prefer he do, then he would be safe and unharmed (for the most part). For example, in HP and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry is lured to the Ministry of Magic to rescue his godfather, Sirius Black. He believes that Sirius is in mortal danger and thinks that only he can help. In this instance, he even tries talking to the adults, but that gets him nowhere and so he acts on his own. This act puts not only him but his best friends in mortal danger as well. And, the kicker is: he is wrong. So now he must fight his way out of danger, facing the most evil of wizards.

Both love and the desire to save people, two admirable character attributes, are fatal flaws which drive the plot for Edmund and Harry.

Those flaws which are less positive carry just as much weight in the pages of their stories:

If Elizabeth weren’t already prejudice against Mr. Darcy and determined to marry for love and not wealth, his rejection of her would bother her and she would most likely be seeking his attention instead of running from it. If Mr. Darcy were not proud of his reputation, he would have made Wickham’s true nature publicly known (although it would have shamed him and his sister), and then Lydia Bennet probably would not have been enticed into eloping with him when suspecting his true intentions.

If Katniss trusted everyone, perhaps she wouldn’t have made it through the first Hunger Games. If Peeta weren’t loyal to those he loved, perhaps he would have come through the Hunger Games without physical loss (in the book version he loses his leg).

Each of the above stories would be vastly different if the characters did not have their fatal flaw.

Every character needs a fatal flaw–this is what makes them tangible to the reader and keeps the reader fascinated. No one wants to read about a character where they do nothing wrong or never get into trouble–perhaps we dream about that for our own lives, but we aren’t interested in reading about someone with a perfect life.

We want to read about someone with flaws, someone like us, who faces the odds and rises above them. We want to love the flawed characters in the books we read as much as we want real people in the real world to love us.

So what is your fatal flaw? What is your character’s fatal flaw? How can you use this to drive your story’s plot? Would changing that flaw change the story?

 

 

Guest post contributed by Kelsie Engen. Kelsie loves to read and started her blog to share that passion with others of like mind. Check out her website for more of her work.

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29 thoughts on “What is Your Character’s Fatal Flaw?”

  1. Great post! I’d always thought of the fatal flaw as tragic (like Shakespeare’s tragedies) but I’ll definitely apply this to my own work now. I think it’s always important to know your characters inside out.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wil truly believes that everywhere outside his home is better off than him, which is his reason for leaving in the first place. This belief, combined with his naivety, leads him to misjudge almost every situation he finds himself in because he always expects a better result result than the outcome that is heading his way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the idea of fatal flaws, and I have fun giving these to my characters…and pushing their buttons accordingly. One of my current characters is a chronic rescuer. Another was so proud of his independence that he’d push away anyone who showed even a lick of pity.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This post just gave me a deeper understanding about what fatal flaws are. What I found interesting from this post is that a fatal flaw doesn’t necessarily have to be “bad” or fatal. It can be a virtue which can have its downfall at times. For example, my character, Troy, is a kind, sensitive individual. However, his fatal flaw is that he can let his emotions get the better of him when faced with difficult situations, which can cloud his better judgment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this – I always like to see my protagonist as the headstrong hero that she is, but I guess having a flaw will make her all the more realistic. And hey, maybe the fact that she is headstrong is her flaw! A real thought provoker this post 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This is a fantastic explanation of fatal character flaws. The characters she chose for this analogy are so perfect for me because I admired these stories and their characters. I once took a screenwriting class, and after days and hours of lectures, and not to mention the money spent, it still did not make me understand character flaws, and how they can move a story as much as this post did. Thank you so very much for sharing this. 😄✨📚

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to apologize to all for not stopping by sooner! I was traveling on the 4th, and then overseas for 10 days, and just lost track of things when I got back! I am so glad that this post resonated with so many, thanks to everyone for their comments and reblogs!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My character’s fatal flaw is her anger and temper, which sends her on a furious quest for revenge, nicely driving the plot. 😁

    Like

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