Character Flaws

Characters are, to most stories, essential components. If a story were a body, the characters would be the organs, responding and acting and keeping everything working. The point I’m making with this slightly tortured metaphor is that characters are so critical that getting them believable and relatable is one of the most crucial tasks for your typical writer. And one of the best ways to create a character that feels real is to give them a flaw, preferably multiple. In fact, definitely multiple, unless that one flaw is “always fails” or something. However, this is a difficult task for a lot of people, including myself, for a variety of reasons, though mainly because 1) you don’t want to make your cool protagonists bad at things and 2) it’s hard to create a flaw that feels natural, in the sense that it is noticeable enough to hinder the character without making it so obvious it comes across as contrived.

So I suppose this is intended to be a sort of compendium of advice on giving characters realistic flaws, and how to avoid giving a character a flaw that is cliché, or unbelievable.

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Give your character a “habit” stat
Put an option "smoking"
Drain their HP everytime the character smokes
Profit

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Depends, you can go just like how @Szaal said and make a choice that going to be mc flaw, although that means mc going to have a disabilities at some point. Fot example, mc flaw is high-pride, this can be make mc in trouble since this can make thing like interacting with other characters more difficult.
or maybe put a “side effect” if mc do some action and have it as consequences. For example, if mc do something impulsive such as try to push something that obviously impossible for mc to push(I admit this stupid thing), the consequences is mc going to end up have no stamina to do anything else or even injured.

In terms of a playable MC, giving the player the choice to choose their weakest stat would open up the possibility to set up a weakness/flaw that applies to that stat. Like choosing a low speech stat would mean your character has a bit of a stutter.

The weakness would show up naturally in the narrative. Instead of constantly playing to your strengths, maybe once in a while a situation comes up where you have to work around a weakness you have or just plain fail in that situation. It happens. If your character were to constantly be put in situations where they have the upper hand, the narrative becomes predictable.

For example: Your character is challenged to a duel. If they have a low combat stat, they’d have to use their other skills to get around the issue. Hiring a champion if they have money, maybe poisoning the opponent so the duel is called off. People might not think perfectly of you, but you’re able to avoid exposing your flaws and it doesn’t look like a complete failure to the player.

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I think Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven did it rather well when it comes to the MC. You have the option to pick several, potentially hampering traits, ranging from addiction to having to care for a pet/kid. It’s probably a lot of work to implement properly, but everything felt natural and rather than being seen as hindrances, it sounded like an additional challenge - not to mention good RP opportunities.

I think one key thing is to let the player chooses the flaw, rather than saddling him/her with a mandatory one. As you mentioned, players often don’t like the idea of being told “your character is bad at this” but are a lot more willing to put up with “you chose your character to be bad at this”.

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i agree, becuase sometimes people want to RP, but other times you just want to be as OP as possible

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More general character-writing advice than game-writing advice (so not necessarily easy to apply to a mc):

Draw from yourself, or what annoys/fascinates you about people you know. Not the Mary-Sue-wouldn’t-this-be-cool approach but more like:

‘That was her fault, but she found a way to explain what happened that made it look like she was the responsible one’ What if I wrote a character who did this constantly, even fooling themselves into thinking they never made a mistake?

Grab something that doesn’t look like it fits, and see if you can make it fit. I think some of the most interesting characters are combinations of traits you wouldn’t expect to see together. I’ve got a fantasy villain who’s a horrible procrastinator. Doesn’t fit the looming dark lord persona, eh? Maybe a little silly? Maybe. But he’s had the potential to conquer the world for decades, and who dares disturb him enough to spur him to action? There’s not a Mcguffin holding him back, only himself.

Find the natural weak side of a strength. A careful, cautious tactician who can’t think fast enough in a fight. An excellent spy who has no friends because they won’t trust anyone. A brilliant scholar who melts if they fail.

Keeping asking ‘why’ or ‘how.’ Our scholar above can’t bear failing. How? Does she blame the test, or decide she’s insignificant and stupid? Or does she hide it by claiming it wasn’t important to her? Why? Pressure from others? (How does this show up in other places? Who has the most influence?) Internal high standards? (What is she trying to be? Why does she think it’s important?).
With different answers, we’ll end up with slightly different characters. One scholar claims she doesn’t care, trying to convince herself it wasn’t important. Another mopes when she fails, because everyone expects her to succeed and she doesn’t want to disappoint. (And does this connect to other parts of her life? Maybe she’s friendly and good at cheering people up, but never brave enough to honestly point out flaws, because she’s got to be a good friend as well as a good student.)

Contrast with other characters. Pick some you think might be too similar, and try coming up with situations where they’d have very different reactions (and then ask why and how!)

If you don’t know where to start, use a trope. Start asking why/how questions, or add something unexpected. I’ve had a lot of fun taking the Meyers-Briggs test as if I was one of my characters.

Well that was long post! This is one of my favorite parts of story-writing… :smile:

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The general reason why people want to create flawed characters is because this makes them more human, which is true, but I don’t think that should be the only purpose of flaws. Personally, I think that character flaws should be somehow related to the themes or the plot of your story. Otherwise there is no point in adding character flaws or no reason why they should be considered as such. This happens also in real life with personality traits.

See, personality traits are not good nor bad, they are just what they are, but they can be considered problems only when they affect your daily life. In a similar way, I think that character flaws should be considered as such because they share some connection with the story itself. For example, if your story is about Alice trying to survive in a cave alone for one night, maybe there is not much of a point in creating a character flaw like “embarrassed to share her feelings”. But if your story is about Alice trying to declare her love for Bob, the same character flaw not only has a connection to the main plot, but also probably is related to the main theme of the story. This is also one of the main reasons why characters have flaws in the first place: to see how the characters grow in relation to them, usually how they overcome them.

And when you can do this with several characters, you can see how the same flaws affect them in different ways. In another thread I talked about the movie Beauty and the Beast and how the Beast and Gaston share the same flaw: they are selfish, they only see Belle as a mean to a personal end. One of them is able to learn and overcome his flaws, regaining his own humanity; while the other scalates them, becoming the real monster.

Or maybe you can create different character flaws in relation to the same theme, to offer different perspectives. Think about a story about seeing the good in people: Charlie thinks that people are inherently good while Dina thinks that humans are monsters. Who is right and who is wrong? This might lead to people taking advantage of Charlie, but it might also lead to Dina being unable to trust others.

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I think that real people are not perfect, but often times authors try to beat the NPC flaws into the reader like in the ROs in Choice of Romance.

A common theme in otome games is that the protagonist is stupid, weak and bad. The MC can have flaws, but they should be chosen or not always result in the MC failing every single challenge. A flaw like the MC having amnesia or not being able to control their magic powers is better as opposed to failing every battle.

Characters like Kenny, Lee, and Clementine from the Walking Dead Game were good, but their flaws weren’t super forced on the player. Characters like Rumple from the Cinderella Phenomenon or the CoR characters

were not good because they were too flawed. Rumple didn’t seem like he would want to stop caring about people although he did understand why he was cursed. He was also broken at the end. The MC was brainwashed her entire childhood and the quick character change didn’t seem believable to me. The dark Fritz route was the most believable to me .

You also have to make the character change seem believable. Why would a super bad guy randomly change? I like subtle flaws or flaws that are the same as strengths for ROs ( One person liked character A because they are fun and carefree while the other person hates character A because they’re childish and never take anything serious.)

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Nah, IDK with you guys, but being proposed a “what is your weakness” question and have to choose one option from the list is just irks me wrong.

You can find this on Mecha Ace where one of the four stat-decreasing options will decrease your stat down from 2 to 1 correspondingly.

And to be honest, it feels like “Heheh. My weakness is having a shakes. Combat shakes. Hehe.”
(By the way, that is what happened on my 2nd playthrough. Ignores the hehe :sweat_smile:)


I’m fine with being weak or flawed, but I don’t like it when the game yells at me “Hey, your MC is should be an imperfect one, but unfortunately, we created it perfect from the first time. Now, choose which stats to decrease from this list.”

It feels like someone throws me a kitchen knife and tells me to… dismantle any of my body parts.
:robot:

If you do plan to add “choice of flawness,” try to phrase it in such a way that the choice is subtle.
Perhaps, the player is given a certain general backstory that cause the MC’s flawness, or instead of adding a “choice of flawness,” give the player a “choice of imperfection” where the player have a lot of stat points but can’t spend it all to maximize their stats. The lowest stat is the MC’s flaw.

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I find that character development is one of the most important and unappreciated aspects of a game. And gaming by its nature seems to encourage a narcissistic streak if not corrected. The idea that your character is cool, super competent, heroic, a bad ass, a winner, etc. all pretty narcissistic. And even when I read about characters having flaws it still seems fairly rudimentary. Without hitting this too hard, great fiction and non-fiction has long known about the flaws in humanity. We aren’t recreating the wheel here. And so maybe our reference to characters should reach out beyond gaming a bit further. Even something like the MBTI tends to be a very shallow measure for character. (Psychologist Jordan Peterson mentions the popularity of this test because it makes everyone feel good about themselves.) If you want character depth and understanding of personality flaws try Dostoevsky. Not a popular suggestion I know. But you’ll learn far more about what this flawed bundle of flesh and spirit that we call humanity is by wrestling with Crime and Punishment or the Brothers Karamazov for a month than you can in most other forms of fiction. If the big D is too much for you and you are still feeling a bit humble, or afraid, then you could go to Shakespeare. Take some time with Hamlet or Macbeth or even dear Romeo and Juliet, whom it turns out are not being praised in the play for being romantic but rather being criticized for being blinded by passion. A great flaw. Our flaws are integral to our being.

But then again if you just want to have fun playing a game you can pretty much ignore what I’m saying.

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Character flaws are very important. Can’t get as many starting feats without them.

*rimshot

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If I may add to this, Dostoyevsky’s short stories A Little Hero and White Nights and his novella The Gambler also work admirably and are much quicker reads. The short stories have a main character with a flaw that can’t really be helped, but despite that they find some way of redemption or fulfillment.

I don’t really have an issue with characteristic flaws being pre-decided by the author. Learning to deal with it would be an eye-opening experience and perhaps illuminate a real, though maybe slight, deficiency in one’s character. (I use “deficiency” loosely here as just as a strength can become a weakness, a perceived deficiency can probably become a strength.) Taking White Nights as an example, the way the narrator’s excessive romanticism was expressed allowed me to identify with him and realise similar feelings I may have had. As long as it’s not something glaringly fixable a pre-determined flaw would even be interesting.

It just irks me when stories make you choose traits you’re good or bad at. It’s too clear-cut. Incorporating inevitable weaknesses into choices where you have to choose a ‘style’ of action or thinking would be a more nuanced way to go, like the way scribblesome does it in The Aegis Project. Or even choices that incorporate many traits, so selecting one background/action for the MC may increase knowledge and charisma by five and decrease confidence by five rather than charisma +15 and be done with it. Or even forget it altogether and have any MC ‘strengths’ be usable as flaws, especially if the reader decides to be narcissistic and max out one trait. You may have 90% strength, but no one likes you because you break their bones in a handshake.

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All characters should be written with this one flaw in mind. It doesn’t have to take precedence. It doesn’t have to even be a major point of their character. But it needs to be considered when writing.

The character is one person. They can do everything one person can do. Sure, if they’re powerful enough, they could shatter the world or whatever. Can they run an entire government by themselves? Can they win not only the battle they’re in, but another hundreds of miles away? Can they take two different choices at the same time without repercussions?

You get the gist.

I’m fond of character flaws. Done correctly they give the character depth and balance. They also serve as good plot devices, and in the right situation can become a strength.

I personally find stories in which I have to balance a creative flaw as part of the story more engaging than stories that lack such details. I’m forced to try and compensate for that flaw as I make choices, which makes my character feel more real.

One of the key story elements to what I’m hoping will be my first interactive fiction, is the ability to choose a companion(work) with a set of unique abilities, but do to personality flaws, is far less helpful than they should be. This is a pivotal element in the story’s premise, progression, and the tone of the dialogue.

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