I’ve always been fascinated with the psychology of favouring the underdog, as well as why we hate to love some villains, or even love to love them, while being almost contemptuous for the hero. We all have insecurities, and even if our flawed characters don’t share the same drawbacks as us personally, we can still relate to them better than someone who seems more together. Flaws capture our hearts more quickly, and negative character traits also allow for personal growth. If a main character in a book learns nothing at the end of the book than from the beginning, there will usually be dissatisfaction from the reader. If the main character already has it together at the beginning and the only adversity to overcome are external obstacles, then the story is at risk of feeling emotionless and bland.
When creating characters, I’ve always focussed on the flaws over the strengths–but I always have a clear motivation for them to keep in mind in order to drive the story forward. The motivation could be good, evil or neutral… it always means more to my character than it does to the reader. I’ve never worried about the nature of the end-goal as its nature is more important to me as an engine. Every scene has to work toward the goal, whether it’s a mission, a romance, an escape or something else.
I’ve always liked the rule: “Coincidences to get your character into trouble are great, coincidences to get your character out of trouble is poor writing.” People grow the most when they have to get themselves out of trouble. It’s usually messy business, but it’s great for personal growth. It’s also a great way to help your character grow, and to develop them through the book, or even to change their end goal.
If you have the time to browse, you can read a list of 638 Primary Personality Traits segregated into positive, neutral and negative.
Related Articles on Character Creation
Author Clare Dunkle discusses character design
Wikihow has 13 great steps for character creation from scratch
Related Articles on Character Strengths and Virtues
A detailed list of character strengths and the behaviours demonstrated can be found on the psychology site, Authentic Happiness.
An extensive easy-to-read article about the 24 character strengths divided into six virtues, as found on positive psychology site, Make The Change
A blog post with excellent examples on how a single trait can be either a strength or weakness, by Jae’s Fiction
Related Articles on Character Flaws and Weaknesses
An interesting and very short article observing the attraction readers have to flawed characters and how to work with them.
A fun ‘Character Flaws & Weaknesses’ generator that assigns random flaws. Great for ‘paint a picture’ writing exercises.
The BBC writes an interesting article on the difference of faults, flaws, weaknesses and drawbacks
A roleplaying forum called Dark World has compiled an extensive list of flaws with explanations
Lastly, try and remember the wise words of Ernest Hemingway:‘When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.’