Human beings aren’t robots. And human beings are everything, but perfect. There is no such thing as perfection. Thank God!
It’s those so called flaws that make a person realistic and alive, interesting and potentially likable. But what are those flaws? Well, to make it short, flaws are all those traits – mental and physical – that make a person ‘unperfect’ or… less boring.
Think of a model from a magazine or the behaviour of royalty in public. Flawless faces and bodies (according to latest trends of course), spotless appearances, pristine behaviour and a immaculate character. Which seems to be the ideal everyone yearns for, yet makes a story actually bland and boring.
Flaws in Character
Everone has certain character traits and while some of them are great strengths, others can be less so.
Think of human behaviours that you mom probably would have criticised you for. The range is huge and the possibilities nearly endless, so feel free to play around.
Maybe your character is a compulsive liar or is always late. Maybe she is especially cranky when tired or hungry (what woman isn’t…? I certainly am). Or your guy is a blabbermouth, like Hagrid in Harry Potter? Or has a dire need to impress others?
Whatever you think of, make sure that it actually suits your persons character. An introvert can be a blabbermouth, but probably not in front of a large group or in a loud manner. Slipping information without intent can happen in private conversation as well. A shy person won’t boast in a large group as well, but does so way more subtle.
Another thing to remember is, that most strengths can turn into weaknesses when exaggerated. Confidence can turn into overconfidence. Being action-driven can result in impatience. If you know some of your characters strengths, you may be able to turn them into flaws at some point.
Here are some flaws to get you going:
This list is by no means complete. I’d also put those flaws into an appropriate context. A person doesn’t necessarily have to be impatient in all aspects of their lives. Maybe they only are when the need to learn something? Or they are moody and cranky when they didn’t get enough sleep. Or they are messy whenever they are stressed out? Cruel when they feel hurt themselves? Over-confident when they know a lot about a topic? Putting those flaws into perspective breathes life to a character immediately.
And you can use those flaws to create lots and lots of conflict in your story 🙂 cruel, I know…
Flaws in Appearance
Again, flaws are considered anything that deviates from the general perception of perfection. You can divide appearance in actual bodily features and the style of a person.
Bodily features contain anything from thin lips, prominent eyes, big or crooked noses or an overbite to being too small, too tall, to big or too skinny. Just think of all those negative labels you or others put on yourself. Humans love to judge each other. As sad as it is.
And noone is spared! Not even top models who seem to be the ideal to strive (or rather yearn) for.
Anyway, your goal is to give your character certain features that makes him or her uniquely identifiable.
The style of this person ties right in there. If he is poor you may want to dress her in run down clothes. If she doesn’t care about her appearance she may wear only shabby and formless clothes. Or they may be dirty.
Here is a list of inspirations:
- puffy face
- messy beard
- big / crooked / long nose
- prominent / squinted eyes
- overly thick eyebrows
- lots of wrinkles
- ashen or pigmented face color
- over- or underbite
- ears that stick out
- big or crooked teeth
- bulky figure
- very big / very thin
- very tall / very short
- malformations (e.g. missing or additional fingers)
- a limp
- a crooked back
- a nervous tick (e.g. twitching of the eyelid, or fidgeting with hands)
- unruly or formless / thin hair
- messy appearance
- clothes that are too big or small
- clothes with holes or patches
- dirty clothes
Just to make it clear… having any of those features is not to be considered faulty or ugly! As much as people chase an image of perfection, it’s actually all of those imperfections that make a person human and interesting. Symmetry seems to be one of those oh so attrative features, yet when I met some people with symmetrical faces… I was actually bored pretty quickly, because there was simply nothing interesting in their appearance.
The goal is to make your character identifiable without describing him with blond hair and blue eyes or some other generic description. Her being pretty and flawless is kind of boring and you don’t have an image of her at all.
Remember Hermione from Harry Potter? She’s described as a girl with bushy hair and with front teeth that are too big. Harry has unruly black hair, noticable green eyes and a scar on his forehead. Dumbledores unique features are his crooked nose, his half-moon glasses and his incredibly long, white beard. Snapes oily hair and his bat-like appearance also leaves a very distinct impression.
That’s your goal. To create a character that creates a distinct and unique image in the mind of your readers. Ideally your audience should be able to identify your character by his or her description alone! Which can be challenging, but also pretty fun! Enjoy the process and let us know how it works out for you.
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